Police are appealing for information about a purple Holden Commodore found abandoned with the body of a woman believed killed in a hit-and-run inside.
Mother of two, Anne Elizabeth McCullough, 45, was found dead in the back seat of the car south of New Plymouth about 2.30pm on Saturday.
A 27-year-old New Plymouth man has been charged with manslaughter and will appear in New Plymouth District Court on Thursday.
Mrs McCullough had been out running alone when she was hit by a vehicle on a narrow stretch of Frankley Rd near the Pouakai Zoo sometime between 1pm and 2pm.
Detective Senior Sergeant Grant Coward said her body was put in the vehicle, a purple 1987 Holden Commodore saloon, which was abandoned at the Meeting of the Waters.
A member of the public found the car with the body and called police.
Mrs McCullough was well-known around Taranaki for her contribution to a number of sporting organisations including Team Aquabladz Taranaki swim squad, New Plymouth Old Boys' Surf Lifesaving Club and the Tukapa Netball Club.
Mr Coward said the incident was an outright tragedy.
"There's no winners in this case," he said.
"It's an absolute tragedy and our thoughts are with the victim's family at this terrible time for them."
The main focus of police was on the car, Mr Coward said.
"The thing for us at the moment, which is critical, is this vehicle. We can't stress enough the importance of sightings of that vehicle.
"We're asking for any sightings, even prior to that time, who may have seen it around New Plymouth earlier in the day or up in those areas."
Mr Coward said the car had driven from the accident scene on Frankley Rd on to Carrington Rd, before driving along Baker Rd, on to Mangorei Rd towards the Junction Rd intersection.
Yesterday, the Meeting of the Waters remained cordoned off while forensic scientists conducted a scene examination, and a section of Frankley Rd was also blocked while the Central Districts serious crash unit examined the hit-and-run scene.
An autopsy was conducted on Mrs McCullough's body yesterday.
Anyone with further information on the vehicle in question can contact police on 06 759 9456.
NPOB surf lifesaving life member David Lean said Mrs McCullough had one of the nicest natures he had ever come across during his time in competitive sport.
"Annie was one of those quiet people who would always smile, never say a bad word about anybody, and put her hand up first for anything," he said.
"She was quiet, she was unassuming, but she was determined."
Mr Lean said she had been involved in the club since the age of about 9, as a competitor, fundraiser, coach, mentor and general helper.
"She was our Mrs Fix-it for everything," he said. "Annie was one of those sorts of people that every club would like to have."
Mrs McCullough's widower, Jeff, is a past club captain, while their two children are also involved as members and lifeguards.
NPOB member Alan Barrett said the family's contribution to the club over the years had been huge, and Mrs McCullough would be greatly missed.
"It's definitely a massive loss to the community, Old Boys in particular.
"You can't lose people like that and not miss them.
"The club really feels for the family," Mr Barrett said.
"It shouldn't happen like this."
Team Aquabladz Taranaki coach Sue Southgate said Mrs McCullough had been involved with the Aquabladz for many years since her son, Ollie, joined the team.
"He is going to take this really, really hard.
"It's going to hit swimming sports in New Plymouth really hard too," she said.
"It's just a really sad thing."
New Plymouth Joggers and Walkers Club captain Corina Henderson said the upper Frankley Rd area was used by dozens of joggers, walkers and cyclists each week.
"I would be happy to run up there on my own.
"I wouldn't consider it unsafe.
"But this is a wake-up call isn't it. It's awful."
She said club members used the area when training for marathons, always running into the traffic to see what was coming.
She was not aware of any accidents involving runners in the area and said most motorists slowed down and gave them a wide berth.
Police are asking for sightings of the car on Saturday afternoon. It drove from Frankley Rd on to Carrington Rd, along Baker Rd, to Mangorei Rd. Anyone with further information can contact police on 06 759 9456 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.
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