Man surfs to second chance on strength of rescue efforts
The hero of a daring sea rescue earlier this year found his own salvation from a fellow surf lifesaver on the other side of the dock yesterday.
Patea's Elton John Whakatutu, 39, appeared before Judge Allan Roberts in the Hawera District Court, after earlier pleading guilty to cultivating cannabis and possessing equipment to grow the drug.
He was caught with 77 cannabis plants, valued at $77,000, when police searched his home earlier this year.
The two growing rooms also contained lights, transformers and a number of buckets.
Defence Lawyer Grant Vosseler said his client had secured a position in a rehabilitation programme and had a real desire to turn his life around. But it was Whakatutu's rescue efforts at the mouth of the Patea River that stuck a special chord with the judge.
Whakatutu, along with his brother, saved two boaties who were thrown into the water after their boat capsized in January.
The pair, who were surfing at the time, rescued a 44-year-old Patea man and a 47-year-old from Opunake.
Judge Roberts said that as a member of a surf lifesaving organisation he knew the courage it took to do what Whakatutu had done. He had been in a similar situation and knew the fear Whakatutu would have been feeling.
"I'm minded to give this guy a break."
Judge Roberts said once Whakatutu completed the programme he would likely be given an electronically monitored sentence.
However, the judge's leniency came with a warning.
He said if Whakatutu walked out, or was kicked out, of the programme before sentencing on March 13 he would go to jail.
Taranaki Daily News