After the crash

CHARLES ANDERSON AND AMY MAAS
Last updated 05:00 26/05/2013
Crash
WASTED LIFE: The dead driver of the car, Dominic Stehlin, seen here with his partner Chanelle Taupo.
Crash
GRIEVING: Chanelle Taupo is carrying Dominic Stehlin's unborn child.

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Chanelle Taupo sat at her uncle's home in Melbourne listening to the phone call that she prayed was a joke. There had been a crash, she was told. Three of them were dead. Another was on life support at Middlemore Hospital. Dominic Stehlin, her partner and the father of her unborn child, was the driver. He didn't make it.

Chanelle had gone to Australia to scout out the pair's future. They planned to travel there together soon. They had plans to marry and to raise their child near Chanelle's family. Dominic had been studying for a tourism qualification at the local polytechnic. He had worked as a painter and always helped out his mother with the bills. He was the eldest of four children and protective of his siblings. He would always tidy up the house after them. Outside his parents' south Auckland home was a plot of flowers which Dominic created in his spare time. He was 19-years-old.

There were no redeeming features in the news stories that followed the crash. Images of the scene revealed Dominic's dark green Honda Accord, that he had owned for a year, crushed almost beyond recognition. A 4WD lay on its side. There was shattered glass and two bloodied jumpers lying on what remained of his car's roof.

According to police Dominic's car was seen just after midnight on May 11 travelling at 160km an hour on the motorway. Then it was seen again coming off the motorway as it overtook a police car. The police gave chase but called it off just moments before Dominic careened into the parked 4WD with such force that it was shunted 20 metres down the road. Massey Rd residents ran out to to see the twisted frame of the Accord. Its wheels were still spinning. The engine was still revving. Dominic's foot was still on the accelerator.

The previous morning he had been at the Manukau District Court appearing on a charge of driving without a license. He had sat the test once or twice but failed. Still, at about 11pm that evening, after asking his aunty for 10 dollars and his passport, he climbed in the driver's door and took off around his neighbourhood to pick up three friends - Viane Gaga, 18, Uesitini Tootoo, 18, and George Lomia, 20.

Dominic's Aunty Lemau Tilo thought they were on the way home when police spotted them about midnight. There was a fear within Dominic, she thought. He knew he was doing something wrong but he was scared. He was a good boy, she said. He hardly ever went out. Whatever went through his mind in that split second, whatever his passengers may or may not have said, whatever notions of consequences to his actions didn't matter. When Dominic saw the flash of red and blue in his rear view window, he made the decision to place his foot on the right pedal and push down.

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The family of Viane Gaga stood around his bed in Middlemore Hospital watching the rise and fall of his chest. It was 2.30am.

They were shocked and confused. They thought Viane had been asleep at home. They hadn't realise he'd gone out.

Hours earlier, the 18-year-old's mother had woken him up from a nap to join the family in the nightly prayer. An hour into the rosary, he was told to go back to sleep. He had work at a construction company the next morning. He went back to bed, but not before asking his mother for an eftpos card - one that didn't have any money in it anyway.

It was the last time Viane's family saw him with his eyes open and breathing on his own. The next time, he'd be lifeless and when his sister, Telesia, held his hands his fingers wouldn't close around hers.

The doctor said there was nothing more hospital staff could do to keep him alive - his body and his brain had started shutting down.

Telesia leaned in close to his ear and asked him to wake up. She cried when she realised it wasn't going to happen.

The family held a meeting and decided to turn off Viane's life support. His mother had nearly suffered a heart attack when she heard the news. They didn't want her to die as well. The family watched Viane's chest fall one last time. Then he was gone.

It was a wasted life. Viane was a good boy, all four of them were. Their families said they weren't like other kids.

The families of the four laid them to rest in South Auckland last week. At Viane's funeral on Monday, more than 500 mourners crowded St Anthony's Catholic Church in Mangere. They all wanted to pay their respects to the shy, quiet kid who everyone got on well with.

All four boys are gone and now all that is left are unanswered questions. Why did the police give chase? Why didn't they take down the car's number plate and track down the boys later?

But those close to the boys are not asking why they were speeding. Or why they didn't stop when they saw the blue flashing lights. In a senseless tragedy all they know is their sons, their brothers, uncles and partners are dead.

Now Chanelle sits at the kitchen table at Dominic's house staring at photos of their short life together. There had been more family members around the house in the days following Dominic's death. Now it was getting quieter as people drifted away. Now it was sinking in.

Chanelle's baby is due in September. She won't be going to Australia anymore. She doesn't quite know what she will do. She found out on Thursday that she is having a boy. She already had a name in mind. There was only one she could think of.

- Sunday Star Times

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