A "special little girl" is in a critical condition after her parents grabbed a box of bourbon and cola, then took her out "hooning" on an overloaded quad bike.
Ashlee Shorrock, 6, was flown to Starship children's hospital in Auckland yesterday with serious head injuries after she was flung from the quad bike when it veered off a bank at Hawke's Bay's Waimarama Beach.
Her father, Daniel Shorrock, 28, and stepmother, Stephanie Lucas, 22, had piled on to the quad along with Ashlee and two friends at about 11.15pm on Wednesday.
All the adults suffered serious injuries including multiple broken bones, and were in stable conditions in Hawke's Bay Hospital yesterday.
Police say all the adults were intoxicated, and have blasted their actions as "incredibly stupid".
Neighbour Melissa Ellmers said she had watched the adults pile on to the bike with Ashlee the past couple of nights and take off "hooning" around Waimarama, 40 kilometres south of Hastings.
On Wednesday night the group, armed with a box of bourbon, headed up the winding Okaihau Rd which offers a good view of the beachside settlement.
"It was just an accident waiting to happen," she said.
Okaihau Rd's Richard Gaddum said he was going to bed when screaming alerted him to trouble outside.
Mr Gaddum, a volunteer firefighter, grabbed his torch and found a man stumbling out of the bushes.
The bike had sent the five passengers flying down a three metre-bank after losing control on a corner, he said. "It was just carnage down the bank."
Mr Gaddum called the emergency services and stayed with the group until help came.
"The child's screaming was terrible," he said.
Senior Sergeant Luke Shadbolt, of Hastings police, said it was lucky that no-one died. He was "disappointed" a little girl had suffered as a result of the "stupidity" of the adults who were supposed to be looking after her.
"All four adults appeared to be intoxicated and were riding an overloaded quad bike that was not designed to carry that many passengers, " he said.
The incident was being investigated, and depending on the results of the investigation, charges could be laid.
"It's a vehicle, and it was on a public road, so the normal rules apply. It's the same as any other motorbike or car accident."
All four adults have had blood samples taken.
Mr Shadbolt said the accident "shouldn't have happened".
"Quad bikes are an important part of New Zealand culture, and are a vital tool in most farming environments, but we know there are dangers with them. To be using them in those circumstances is just incredibly stupid."
Waimarama School principal Kelly Vaney said it was "heartbreaking" that it happened to such a "special little girl". Ashlee had been attending the school since moving to the township with her parents about a year ago.
Helicopter crewman Geoffrey Taylor, of the Lowe Corporation rescue helicopter, said it was a difficult rescue.
"Flying out of unlit terrain, using night vision goggles - they're never routine, those operations."
Ashlee and her father were airlifted to Hawke's Bay Hospital; the three other adults were taken by two ambulances.
Mr Taylor said the little girl had "quite a nasty bang on the head," and "wasn't that conscious" for the trip to hospital.
Her father, meanwhile, had a "quite badly damaged leg".
"He was in quite a bit of pain. He was yelling, and telling us how sore he was."
QUAD BIKE RULES
Quad bikes and other all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) are designed for off-road use.
The New Zealand Transport Agency requires all ATVs driven on public roads to be registered and licensed, and to maintain a current warrant of fitness. Public roads include bridges, beaches, campgrounds and parks.
Drivers must also hold a current driver's licence and wear an approved safety helmet.
Only farmers travelling at slower than 30kmh, from one part of their farm to another or to an adjoining farm, are exempt from wearing a helmet.
NZTA guidelines warn that carrying passengers make ATVs harder to control and more likely to tip over.
Full-size ATVs carry manufacturers' labels that specify that no one under the age of 16 ride the vehicle.
When used on public roads, normal road policing legislation applies.
- The Dominion Post