Waikato celebrity chef Cameron Petley is in shock after hearing his stolen ute may have been used in the shooting of a Hamilton road worker.
Mr Petley's navy blue 1996 double-cab Toyota Hilux was stolen in July last year from outside his Putaruru home.
A source who requested anonymity said the 4x4 vehicle police were seeking in relation to the killing of George Taiaroa, was stolen from the former MasterChef contestant - who now runs the kitchen at The Nash in Cambridge.
Mr Petley was told on Saturday night that it was potentially a vehicle of interest for police investigating the shooting, that took place at a one-lane bridge on Tram Rd near Kinleith last Tuesday.
The Waikato Times showed a photo of Petley's stolen vehicle to a contractor, known as Josh, who was overtaken by a dark blue ute minutes after the shooting.
He said: "That looks a lot like the [vehicle] I saw".
Minutes before being overtaken by the vehicle, Josh had come across the scene of the shooting and offered assistance, before being told by Mr Taiaroa's colleagues that emergency services were on their way.
Mr Petley was last night "gutted" that his vehicle may have been involved in further criminal activity.
"I'm extremely gutted," he said.
"I loved my truck when I had it, and to think someone steals it off me and uses it for more crime, it guts me even more."
He said that if his vehicle was implicated, he would be thankful he didn't go out to confront the car thieves at the time of the theft.
"Who knows, they could have turned a gun on me."
He said his hunting guns and dog kennels were not with the 4x4 at the time of the theft.
While he wasn't taking questions from media yesterday, Detective Inspector Mark Loper said on Saturday that a motive for the killing was yet to be established but he said police were still convinced it was deliberate.
"We don't believe it's random.
"Something has occurred for this to happen."
He said police believed the killer may have local knowledge, due to the way the car drove off down a "web" of rural and forest roads.
Mr Petley, an avid hunter, said the forestry roads through the central North Island were vast.
"You can pretty much go from Tokoroa to Te Kuiti and from Taupo to Rotorua - all those roads link up through the bush but you need a key 'cos a lot of them have locked gates," he said.
After his vehicle was stolen, Mr Petley heard "plenty of rumours" about who had taken his prized Hilux.
He felt the most likely story was that his vehicle had been stolen to settle a drug debt.
Meanwhile, Ngatokowaru Marae committee chairwoman Rachael Selby said about 300 people attended Mr Taiaroa's tangi at Levin on Saturday.
"There are a lot of questions to be answered now it is over," she said.
"Our job was to support the family and we did that."
She said family members were now in a position to move on with other parts of their lives.
- © Fairfax NZ News