Speed a factor in Waikato's spate of accidents
MIKE MATHER AND MATT BOWEN
Holidaymakers from the cities are risking their lives racing around the twisting roads of the Coromandel Peninsula - and police are pleading with them to ease off the accelerator before someone is killed.
The warning follows one family's brush with death after the car they were travelling in plunged off the road and rolled 20 metres down a bank through trees and scrub, early yesterday afternoon.
The six occupants of the people mover - two children and four adults - suffered a range of injuries. A woman and a 2-year-old child had to be flown by rescue helicopter to Waikato Hospital with serious head injuries and fractures. One of the occupants remained trapped inside the car for some time.
The crash just before 1pm on State Highway 25 between Tairua and Whenuakite, in an area known as Pumpkin Hill, shut down traffic on the Coromandel Peninsula road on one of the busiest days of the year.
The officer in charge of summertime policing in Whangamata, Senior Sergeant Freda Grace, said the incident was still under investigation by the Serious Crash Unit, but initial indications pointed to speed as a factor.
"The driver of the vehicle appears to have failed to negotiate a signposted 25kmh corner, crossed the centreline and gone down a 20 metre bank . . . Members of the public had to travel from the scene to raise the alarm due to poor cellphone coverage."
The other four occupants of the car were taken to Thames Hospital by ambulances that arrived from Whitianga and Hahei.
"The crash closed the road for a considerable period and resulted in traffic being diverted on to the gravel Tapu-Coroglen Road, causing significant congestion."
A salvage vehicle was dispatched from Hamilton to recover the car as the road was closed to one lane for hours.
Grace said despite the fine weather there had been seven crashes across the Waikato district, with three in the Coromandel. Immense pressure was being put on emergency services.
"While police are working fulltime, our sister ambulance and fire crews rely heavily on volunteers who are also trying to enjoy their summer holidays.
"With thousands more vehicles on the narrow Coromandel roads over the next few days it's crucial [that] drivers pay attention and slow down. By showing a bit of patience we will ensure everyone gets to and from their destination safely."
Police would be continuing their zero-tolerance approach to any motorists found driving in excess of any posted speed limit over the summer, she said.
Karl Taylor, a paramedic with the Westpac Rescue Helicopter - temporarily based in Whitianga over the peak summer period - said all the people in the car were wearing seatbelts, which had surely saved their lives.
"We had our first day stationed here on Boxing Day and we have already been inundated with work, a mixture of accidents and medicals.
"This is the second year we have made Whitianga a temporary base and it is a pretty smart move. The workload is just huge."
Meanwhile, a man believed to be the driver who fled the scene after he smashed through two suburban fences, a power pole and a lamp post at Matamata is helping police with their inquiries.
The force of the impact was strong enough for airborne debris to smash the windows of an adjoining house.
Police say alcohol may have been a factor in the crash.
Sergeant Graham McGurk, of Matamata, appealed for information about the driver's whereabouts yesterday morning.
The man believed to be the driver, 24-year-old Matamata man Timothy Brett Coffey, was found an hour later.
An off-duty officer was the first to the scene of the crash that happened shortly before 1am on Western St, McGurk said.
Residents saw the Holden Commodore station wagon speeding along Western St, McGurk said.
"He has then lost control of his car and crossed the centre line before hitting a steel-framed fence and taking out both a power pole and street light pole and then crashed through another fence.
"The driver fled the scene on foot towards Peria St and a car was seen to stop and pick someone up before driving off."
- Waikato Times