Couple arm-in-arm when hit by car
Fifty-metre skid marks tell the story of a car driver's desperate attempt to stop before a fatal collision with an elderly couple crossing the highway at Tongaporutu.
Retired New Plymouth couple Joan, 78, and Robert (Bob) Murch, 83, were last seen walking arm-in-arm, as they always did, on to the road.
They were hit by a car travelling south on State Highway 3 and died at the scene.
The collision occurred about 2.15pm on Thursday on the eastern side of the intersection of SH3 and Clifford Rd.
Son-in-law Richard West said he and his friend Robert Young and the Murches decided to go for a walk after having lunch at their son Andrew and Karen Murches' bach on Hills Rd before returning to New Plymouth.
"For some reason they chose to come back on the busy road rather than [use the underpass] under the bridge."
He and Young went through the underpass and as they came out onto the other side heard a screech of brakes.
"We both saw them being thrown in the air. It was horrific. Very traumatic."
Visibility would have been reduced because of the combination of the silver car and the glare of the sun, West said.
"The poor driver couldn't have done anything. On the open road you can't stop in time."
He and his friend were first to get to the fatally injured couple.
"I was praying with Bob and a lovely nurse was praying with Joan, who was down the bank."
Bob Murch was the third generation to own Murch's Drapery, a women's wear and manchester shop in Hawera, before the couple retired to New Plymouth about 14 years ago.
They were involved in the Friendship Force in Hawera and in New Plymouth through which they made friends with people around the world and travelled extensively.
The couple were active members of the Central Baptist Church in the city.
"They were gentle, serving people and well liked by everybody," Pastor Martin Kelderman said.
The funeral for the couple was expected to be on Wednesday.
The couple have four children, Peter, Catherine, Andrew and Beth, and eight grandchildren.
Senior Sergeant Matt Prendergast, of Waitara, said at the scene yesterday that the investigation, with the expertise of the Police Serious Crash Unit, was under way.
The conditions were good at the time and the road wasn't busy, he said.
It was too early to say who, if anyone, might have been at fault.
"Obviously it's a huge tragedy. To have two elderly people killed like this is a terrible thing. Victim Support were assisting the family.
"It is still too early to say if any charges will be laid."
Early inquiries found the driver, a German national working in Auckland as a volunteer, was travelling south to visit New Plymouth.
He was the sole occupant of the car and was travelling on the correct side of the road before the impact, Prendergast said.
His car was having a full mechanical inspection.
Prendergast advised anyone wanting to cross the road on foot to ensure they used the SH3 bridge underpass running next to the river.
Tongaporutu resident Richard Burton said he had been asking for several years for signs to go up indicating where the hidden underpass was.
Prendergast agreed signs should be put up.
The area, popular with holidaymakers, could be very busy during holidays.
"It can be pretty hectic out here. We would prefer people to go through the underpass."
Taranaki Daily News