Police name drive-by shooting victim
MIKE WATSON, MARYANNE TWENTYMAN, MATT BOWEN, HARRY PEARL AND FLORENCE KERR
Police have released the name of the man killed in at a roadworks traffic checkpoint near Atiamuri. He was George Charles Taiaroa, aged 67 of Hamilton.
Taiaroa was working at the traffic control point yesterday directing traffic when he was shot dead.
"This has been an unexpected and shocking event for everyone concerned," the Taiaroa whanau said in a statement issued in English and Maori through police this afternoon.
The family said it would like to acknowledge the overwhelming support it had received as it dealt with the loss of a loving husband, father and grandfather.
Detective Inspector Mark Loper said it appeared from police investigations that a logging truck had moved off from the control point, which is in a isolated rural forestry area.
Shortly after a four wheel drive vehicle drove off and witnesses saw a man fall to the ground, he said.
A motorist attempted to help Taiaroa, but he died at the scene, Loper said.
The body was removed from the scene this morning and taken to Auckland for a post-mortem.
"The community holds the key to the enquiry and has significant role to play going forward", he said.
"Every small piece of information could be vital not matter how small or irrelevant that it seemed."
Police are keen to hear from people in the area near Tram Road yesterday between 2.30pm and 4pm, and who may have seen a speeding vehicle or driving erratically in the area.
Detective Inspector Tim Anderson said police were working with Taiaroa's family, and have sent them their condolences.
He said it was a tragedy for the family and nearby communities. It is important to understand it was early days in the investigation and information was limited to the public.
There had been a good response already and the investigation was progressing through a number of avenues of enquiries.
Loper could not confirm if a blue vehicle was found behind the Whakamaru service station today.
"I can confirm we are following up on a number of vehicles and are getting good responses from the public," he said.
"We are looking for a 4x4 type vehicle which may include a Jeep Cherokee or something similar."
It was too early to speculate around motives for the killing, he said.
A logging truck and another vehicle had pulled up before the suspect vehicle drove off, and police had spoken to witnesses in both vehicles.
"We believe a blue Jeep Cherokee was involved but we are not going to close that avenue," he said.
Police are interested in anyone who saw a speeding vehicle in the area at the time .
The witness in one of the vehicles saw the victim drop as they drove up to the scene, he said.
A post mortem will confirm how Taiaroa died and what sort of firearm was used, he said.
Police would not confirm if there was a connection between the victim and the shooter.
Anderson said it was too early to speculate if anything from Taiaroa's past could be connected to the shooting.
"There are clearly a number of unknowns and we are specialising in gathering facts and finding a resolution," he said.
"We have a good success rate and good team on board in this investigation."
More than 30 experienced police staff from Tauranga, Rotorua and nearby districts were helping with the investigation.
"The key focus is hearing from anyone who may have seen the four wheel drive in the area late afternoon yesterday," Anderson said.
"Part of the investigation is to narrow down the facts as to why this has taken place.
"Police believe it is a "clearly an isolated incident."
Part of the inquiry would be to find if it was a targeted attack, he said, adding Armed Offenders Squad would remain on standby and the Eagle helicopter from Auckland had joined the operation.
Taiaroa was a "cheeky chap" who was beloved by his colleagues, his land lady said.
Pukeko and Bull Tavern manager Lisa Campbell said "Georgie" had been living there while working on the job - with the pub little more than a 1km from where he was killed.
Campbell said he was a cheeky guy that was well loved by his colleagues and staff.
"We are absolutely devastated by what has happened," she said.
"Georgie was a funny guy - a joker. The last time I saw him he wanted a steak meal and I didn't want to cook, but he came into the kitchen and gave me cheek to hurry me up."
She said his fellow workers had been filtering through the Tavern since yesterday's shooting and were "absolutely shattered" by this death.
About 30 of them gathered at the site of the shooting this morning for a sombre meeting.
SHOCK AND ANGER
Taiaroa was believed to be an HEB Construction employee who had been in the area for the past 18 months.
He had been working on the new $24 million Atiamuri bridge replacement project over the Waikato River.
A resident said the construction project was coming to an end and the replacement bridge was officially opened last Saturday with MPs, contract bosses and members of the public walking across it. It was also blessed.
But the entrance to Ongaroto Rd had been closed, forcing motorists travelling down State Highway 30 to detour along Tirohanga Rd, across the one-way Tram Rd bridge which linked back to SH30 - the main road through to Te Kuiti and Mangakino.
The dead man was one of two stationed at either end of the one-way bridge to manage traffic flow.
"This gentleman who was shot, I don't think he was just a stop-go man," the resident said.
"He'd been working for the bridge building company.
"He was probably a jack of all trades down there."
The news of the shooting came as a shock, she said.
"It was in our neighbourhood and goddamn if it was a local that shot him - a man's here doing a job and he gets shot."
She said the whole incident seemed "strange" and appeared to be "random". She said the man's colleague took comfort in the fact police had a description of the vehicle involved.
Loper said the motive for the fatal shooting was not clear.
"Speculation before we know the facts will not be helpful," he said.
Anyone with information about the shooting was asked to contact Taupo police on 07 378 6060. Alternatively information could be provided anonymously via Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.
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