Near-miss brings back memories

CHE BAKER AND GRANT BRYANT
Last updated 05:00 06/05/2014
Rutger Hale
Rutger Hale
car
JO MCKENZIE-MCLEAN
LUCKY ESCAPE: Casey Booth, 19.
Terry Erceg
GRANT BRYANT/Fairfax NZ
CHUNK OF DANGER: Queenstown police constable Terry Erceg holding the distinctively shaped piece of metal that flew from a truck trailer through Casey Booth's windscreen.

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The great-uncle of Rutger Hale, killed by a mystery object near Lake Hawea six months ago, said the eerily similar incident near Queenstown on Saturday brought memories of his nephew's death flooding back.

Casey Booth, 19, of Cromwell, was driving towards Queenstown on the Lower Shotover Bridge with a female passenger about 2pm when he saw a large object fly out of the back of a truck-and-trailer unit, which had pulled out from Tucker Beach Rd on to State Highway 6 heading towards Cromwell.

A 4kg chunk of steel smashed through his windscreen, grazing his little finger, and wedged into the roof of his car, bending a strut brace.

On October 24, Hale, 22, was killed as he was driving with his girlfriend Danielle Oylear on State Highway 6 between Lake Hawea and Wanaka at 6.25am after a mystery object smashed through his windscreen, hitting him in the head, and then smashed out through the rear window.

Extensive police searches failed to find the object but tests on fragments of the car found the object was made of, or contained, fragments of stainless steel.

His great-uncle Pete Phillips said yesterday "it's glaringly too similar".

"They dodged a bullet. I just can't believe it. I just felt sick. That kid was lucky. Rutie wasn't," he said.

Phillips believed that because the second incident happened in the daytime, it gave Booth a better chance to see the object and move out of its way.

Hale had been driving in limited vision in the early hours of the morning, he said.

He blamed the incidents on human error.

"It's human error. It's all it is. We all make mistakes. We might think a load is secured properly but it's not," he said.

Phillips said he wanted to call Booth to tell him how lucky they were.

"We're getting through it [Hale's death]. It's just brings it back," he said.

Queenstown police were hopeful that releasing further images of the piece of steel that flew through Booth's windscreen would result in someone coming forward.

Senior Constable Julian Cahill organised for a photo of the piece of metal to be taken yesterday morning, saying the roughly 90cm, 4kg piece of weathered steel was distinctive enough to jog someone's memory.

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"This is a substantial piece of metal, and is tapered at both ends, which someone will recognise from a building site or something similar," he said.

The fact that the truck was seen coming off Tucker Beach Rd onto State Highway Six at the Lower Shotover Bridge at 2pm also drastically narrowed the possibilities in the search of the vehicle the piece of metal flew from, Cahill said.

Tucker Beach Rd comes to a dead-end at the banks of the Shotover River.

Hale's case remains unsolved.

- The Southland Times

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