Drink-driver stole man's former life

Anti drink driving campaigner Tamati Paul speaking in Manaia
Anti drink driving campaigner Tamati Paul speaking in Manaia

A drink-driver stole all of the skills necessary for Tamati Paul to be an effective public speaker and left him with a speech impediment and a broken body.

But when the Gisborne man tells his story about how the driver, who had three previous convictions for drink-driving, shattered his dreams, his audience sits captivated.

In 1998 Paul was a surf lifesaving and waka ama champion. He was 24 and close to being selected for the New Zealand kayaking team for the Sydney Olympics and had been accepted into the police force.

"My life was pumping, totally pumping," Mr Paul recently told an audience at the Manaia town hall.

Then one Sunday, after church, as the Paul family headed to Tolaga Bay for lunch, the family car was hit by a drunk driver, who was more than three times over the legal limit, and travelling at 165kmh.

Mr Paul made a split-second decision to turn his car so he took most of the impact, which sent the drive shaft up through the car, smashing the steering wheel into his chest.

The impact broke most of the bones in his body. He was trapped in the mangled wreckage for 90 minutes.

"My body was fully reconstructed, they rebuilt both arms, both legs, both feet, my lower spine and my skull."

Mr Paul spent five months in hospital and initially doctors gave him only given a 50/50 chance of survival.

Despite what he has gone through, Mr Paul holds no anger towards the drunk driver.

"My mother told me no matter who you are and where you are from, we are all whanau, we are all connected.

"That means the person that hit me is my brother, I love him, I actually love him, I don't agree with the choice he made but I love him. I needed every ounce of energy, everything I could get from the universe for me. How much energy do you use to get angry? How much energy do you use to hate?"

Mr Paul demonstrates how broken his body is - he can barely lift his arms, has limited use of his legs and finds it difficult to stand at times.

"I wasn't always like this, I was a man," he tells those gathered.

"Don't let what happened to me happen to you or anybody else. Please make the right choices, don't drink and drive and don't let anyone else drink and drive and don't ever get in a car with someone who has been drinking," he pleads.

The driver who hit the Paul family car died at the scene. He had a 15-year history of drink-driving and had been on a weekend drinking binge. He left behind a pregnant wife and four children.


The small crowd gathered at Manaia's town hall sat spellbound as Tamati Paul spoke.

But they had plenty to say about drink-drivers after he had finished.

Roydon Knox said he was moved by Mr Paul's story.

"It almost brought me to tears up there when he was talking," Mr Knox said.

He said it would benefit young people to hear Mr Paul's story. "They won't want to go out and do what that other person did to him."

Mr Knox said he had driven drunk as a 20-year-old.

"We had been at the gun club all day and I spent the day drinking, and driving home I pulled over to the side of the road and I blacked out, then I got up and drove on."

Bonny Ranfurly said Mr Paul's story had touched a nerve.

"It was pretty close to the heart," Mrs Ranfurly said.

She admits to driving drunk, in another lifetime, and is now concerned for the next generation as she watches nieces, nephews, children and grandchildren making the same mistakes.

Mrs Ranfurly believed young people would benefit from hearing Mr Paul's story.

"Young people have to see it, movies and stuff don't cut it, you have to see it for yourself."

She believed whanau needed to play a greater part in stopping drink-driving.

"The biggest responsibility is for us to not allow them to get into the car.

"We actually have to step up with that, it's just not good enough."

Jekeyah Martin, 17, described Mr Paul as a powerful speaker who moved people to change.

"The way he does everything and tells people, you are almost in tears when he tells everyone, so of course you are going to listen," Miss Martin said.

"The last time he was here there was a lot of drunk drivers and he turned them all around, he convinced them not to do it."

Taranaki Daily News