Hitchhiker attack linked to Woolston murder?

STACEY KNOTT
Last updated 08:53 31/03/2014

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A violent attack on two West Coast hitch-hikers may be linked to the murder of a woman whose body was found in a Christchurch supermarket car park.

A 38-year-old man is in custody after allegedly attacking two hitch-hikers on the West Coast yesterday and threatening to set himself and his car alight during a five-hour standoff with police.

Police are also investigating whether there is a link to an attempted assault of a hitch-hiker at Rabbit Island on March 6.

Tasman district commander Superintendent Richard Chambers said he expected the man - who was from the lower North Island - would appear in court later today. "We've got a lot to talk to him about.

"We're working closely with staff in Christchurch to establish whether or not there is a link [to the discovery of a body in a car in Woolston]."

Detective Inspector Tom Fitzgerald said this morning a vehicle identified in the homicide inquiry was believed to be the same as that involved in the tourist attacks.

The two women tourists were found on the side of the road at Franz Josef with serious injuries at about 4pm yesterday.

One woman appeared to have a broken pelvis, while the other suffered three knife wounds to the neck.

The 28-year-old German woman and a 27-year-old woman of Japanese and Dutch origin are both in Grey Base Hospital where their conditions are stable. They are are recovering well and talking with police.

Chambers said the women had been hitch-hiking and had been picked up at Whataroa earlier in the afternoon by a man driving a blue Nissan Terrano.

Chambers said the two women had been in Greymouth over the past three days.

He could not comment if the man was known to police.

However, police were investigating if there was a link to the attack on a hitch-hiker on March 6 when a tourist was approached by a man in Motueka who offered her a ride. She got into the car and he detoured to a secluded area near Rabbit Island and tried to sexually assault her.

"It's [the link is] a consideration given the nature of what occurred in last 24 hours."

He said yesterday's assault occurred in Franz Josef. He believed the women were in the car with the man for less than an hour.

The women were "very lucky" to escape from the car in Franz Josef where members of the public called police and a nurse was able to administer first aid to the women.

After descriptions from the victims and members of the public, police sent all available staff to the area and roadblocks were put in place on State Highway 6 to try to locate the vehicle. A helicopter and a fixed-wing aircraft were also used.

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"We were dealing with an expansive stretch of coastline," Chambers said.

A police patrol located the vehicle south of Fox Glacier near Sugar Loaf Rd at 8.20pm. The vehicle failed to stop and a 90-minute pursuit followed.

The fleeing driver came across a roadblock at Paringa and turned

and headed north again.

A further roadblock was established at Karangarua River, 25km south of Fox Glacier, and that stopped the vehicle about 9.50pm.

Armed police surrounded the vehicle to negotiate with the man but he was "determined to hurt people".

Chambers said the man doused himself, his car and the area around him with petrol and held a lighter.

It was a "very, very dangerous" situation, Chambers said.

The five-hour standoff that ensued gave police time to fly in armed offenders squad staff from Dunedin and Christchurch, and more than 30 police personnel were involved.

The man was shot with "less than lethal option" ammunition, which knocked him over. "That gave us the opportunity to apprehend him."

Chambers said police expected to lay charges.

"The two ladies showed a huge amount of bravery. They're lucky women. This kind of thing shouldn't happen in our country," Chambers said.

He did not believe this latest attack on hitch-hikers showed there was an increase in hitch-hiker-related crime.

"It's a busy time in New Zealand, the risks of hitch-hiking are not new . . . In the summer there are more people out there travelling the roads in whatever way.

"I wouldn't go so far to say there's an increase in this type of crime."

He did not think the West Coast was any more popular for hitch-hiking than other parts of New Zealand.

He said the work of the police was "outstanding" through the night.

"I am proud as the Tasman district commander, it was a very, very dangerous situation we found ourselves in last night and it was resolved as I would like and the public as well."

- Fairfax Media

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