Fire victim was 'over the limit'

MUCH MISSED: Father-of-two Benjamin McBride died in a shed fire behind his home near Hokitika.
MUCH MISSED: Father-of-two Benjamin McBride died in a shed fire behind his home near Hokitika.

A young father-of-two's death in a shed fire behind his home near Hokitika last May had been drinking heavily and smoking cannabis, an inquest in Greymouth District Court has heard.

Dunedin coroner David Crerar adjourned yesterday's hearing into the death of Benjamin McBride, 25, because of questions raised by experts on behalf of McBride's father.

McBride's friend, Simon Gill, told the inquest his friend picked him up from his place about 8.15pm on May 24, 2013, and returned to McBride's Kaniere Rd home.

The pair smoked a joint of cannabis and a cigarette plus shared a dozen stubbies of beer in a shed at the back of McBride's property.

He recalled McBride pushed a lightbulb into a light socket while there and was surprised it worked.

''I remember looking at the socket and thinking I wouldn't be taking my chance in plugging that lightbulb in. It looked really dodgy,'' Gill said.

After finishing the stubbies, they went to a local hotel in Kaniere about 10pm and had several jugs of beer before returning to McBride's with a second dozen of stubby beers, which they mostly finished before Gill walked home.

His partner of seven years, Renee Johnson, told the inquest she heard his four-wheel motorbike arrive home about 1.30am.

It revved loudly when going up their drive, which woke her and their two young daughters, Mia, 3, and Ruby, nine months. She sent him a text message at 1.39am, complaining that he had woken them.

He didn't reply but she sent two other texts soon afterwards asking what he was up to and if he could come to help her.

Johnson said her partner often slept on a couch in the shed if he had been drinking.

At 4.19am, she was woken up by an explosion, which shook the house and made their dog bark.

She saw an orange glow from the shed but the flames were too hot for her to enter so she called the fire brigade.

''In my heart, I knew Ben was in there because he couldn't have been anywhere else,'' she told police that day.

He died despite frantic efforts by a neighbour who tried to fight the fire with a garden hose. Firefighters found a charred body in the shed.

She said one of the last things they discussed that day was getting life insurance, which they had planned to do the following day and she had begun looking at quotes on their computer.

The court heard that fire investigators were unable to determine the fire's cause but it had started at the opposite end of the shed to where McBride's body was found, which suggested smoking was not the cause.

Coroner David Crerar said McBride's blood alcohol level was 281mg per 100ml of blood.

That was more than three times the legal limit for an adult aged 20-plus to drive.

Renee's father, Wayne Johnson, told the inquest the Kaniere home had been their family's homestead for 23 years but they sold it to his daughter and McBride in 2011.

He was in the Hokitika volunteer fire brigade and heard about the fire on his pager but soon afterwards his daughter called him, hysterical about the fire.

The Press