Anguish at fatality mix-up

JOELLE DALLY AND WILMA MCCORKINDALE
Last updated 05:00 20/05/2014
Danielle Ngametua Kiriau
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TRAGIC LOSS: Danielle Ngametua Kiriau, 17, was believed to be in a relationship with the driver of the Honda Integra.

Shannon James Kiriau
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CRASH VICTIM: Shannon James Kiriau, 22, died at the scene, police said.
Cameron Presland
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DRIVER: Cameron Presland, 20, was in the high dependency unit in a stable condition.

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Police wrongly told a Dunedin couple their daughter had survived a double-fatality crash when she was dead.

The city's top policeman yesterday apologised ''unreservedly'' for the identity botch-up, in which officers incorrectly identified the body of Danielle Kiriau, 17, as being that of her friend Courtney Donald, 17, who was badly injured. 

Police then passed on the incorrect information to both girls' families.

Siblings Shannon and Danielle Kiriau died after the car they were passengers in crashed on the southern motorway, at Green Island, about 3am on Sunday. 

Danielle Kiriau's boyfriend, Cameron Presland, 20, was behind the wheel.

He lost control of the illegally modified Honda Integra and it crashed into a pole and tree.

Donald and another backseat passenger, Caitlin Adams, 16, were injured.

Beverley De Blecourt said police visited her in North Taieri on Sunday. They said that her son, Shannon, 22, had died and Danielle was ''very critical''. 

It was not until she and her partner, Nai Kiriau, arrived at Dunedin Public Hospital that the mix-up was discovered.

''We're sitting there waiting for about an hour and then they came out and said, 'Sorry there has been a bit of a mix-up','' De Blecourt said.

They were told Danielle was dead. 

Police incorrectly told Donald's family she had died at the scene, when she was in a critical condition in hospital. 

Dunedin acting area commander Inspector Jason Guthrie said yesterday the officers who confused the two girls' identities were ''very upset'' by their mistake.  

Guthrie said he appreciated the trauma that would have been caused to both families to receive the wrong information. 

''As you can appreciate, the crash scene was difficult and confusing with multiple victims,'' he said.

''Information received from other victims of the crash incorrectly identified one of the females being treated (Courtney Donald) as the young woman who had in fact tragically died at the scene (Danielle Kiriau).

''Unfortunately this information was passed on to the parents of both Danielle Kiriau and Courtney Donald.''

Guthrie said the attending police undertook ''a range of inquiries'' to cross-reference their ''original view'' from witnesses with crash scene evidence ''to have confidence that the identifications were in fact accurate''.

A range of circumstances at the scene led them to believe the victims were correctly identified, he said.

''As soon as the mistake was realised, police took immediate steps to correct it,'' Guthrie said. 

''Naturally the police staff involved are very upset about the fact that this has occurred. We have apologised unreservedly to the parents and family for this mistake and appreciate how traumatic it would have been for them to receive this incorrect information.''

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Police said earlier the crash showed young people were ''not getting the message'' about the dangerous mix alcohol, not wearing seatbelts and speeding could create. 

The Honda Integra had not passed a warrant of fitness since early 2012 and had an uncertified modified turbocharger.

DRIVER CRADLED DEAD GIRLFRIEND

Cameron Presland, who was driving, found his dead girlfriend on the roadside and cradled her body in his arms.

Presland, 20, was yesterday said to be "a mess" over the death of his girlfriend Danielle Kiriau, 17, and that of her brother Shannon, 22, in the Sunday crash.

Presland was travelling about 180kmh on State Highway 1 at Green Island, police said. The illegally turbocharged Honda Integra, which Presland had bought days earlier, spun out of control on a bend and hit a lamp-post, then a tree.

Presland and two other passengers, Courtney Donald, 17, and Caitlin Adams, 16, were injured. Donald remained in a serious condition at Dunedin Public Hospital today.

Presland was waiting for a doctor's assessment, a hospital spokeswoman said. 

His friend, Joe Howey, had visited Presland in hospital and said he was out of the high dependency unit and was "doing alright".

Adams was discharged on Sunday night.

Police said alcohol, speed and the state of the car were factors in the crash.

The five young people were headed to Mosgiel after attending a party at a friend's Three Mile Hill home.

Danielle Kiriau, who was in the back seat with the other girls, none of whom wore seat belts, was thrown from the car. Her brother, who had told his mother "I love you" as he walked out the door, died in the front passenger seat.

Presland's close friend, Joe Howey, visited him in hospital. He said Presland was knocked unconscious in the crash. He woke up in the car and realised his girlfriend was outside.

Despite a lacerated liver and kidney, broken arm and a black eye he went to find her.

"He woke up from being unconscious and ran over and held Danielle.

"We're all young . . . He had a passion for cars. We all do."

Presland was protective of Danielle, Howey said. The couple had dated for 2 years and were in love, he said.

"They were pretty crazy about each other . . . He's just devastated. He can't believe it."

Presland was told in hospital on Sunday afternoon that she was dead.

"It's really sad. He's a mess."

Presland had swapped a rotary-engined van for the car days before the crash.

Donald had a broken leg, femur, hip, ribs and shoulders and a head injury. Only family could visit her in intensive care, Howey said.

Danielle Kiriau was "a beautiful young lady", Howey said. "She was really good at drawing. She was a really cool person. Really energetic, life of the party."

The dead siblings' parents, Nai Kiriau and Beverley De Blecourt, said they did not want to play the "blame game" towards Presland.

Their daughter had been living at his house, closer to her work at Finegand Freezing Works in South Otago.

"When you think about it, he's got a life sentence now," De Blecourt said.

Kiriau said he had "nothing against" Presland.

"I'm not that kind of person, blaming someone. It happened. Can't do anything about it."

Shannon and Danielle were the oldest of four siblings. They grew up in the North Taieri community, built out of what used be a New Zealand Air Force barracks. De Blecourt said Shannon never went anywhere without saying "I love you Mum".

"And that's the last thing he ever said to me: I love you Mum."

Shannon loved and excelled at rugby through his primary school years and was about to get back into it.

Danielle was popular, sporty, arty and an all-rounder, Kiriau said.

"She could do almost anything she put her mind to," De Blecourt said. "They were both good kids generally - sporting, caring, loving kids."

She was not looking forward to picking up Danielle's belongings from Presland's house.

The couple hoped to hold a funeral for their children on Thursday or Friday.

Adams' mother, Bridget Hamilton, said she felt lucky Adams survived the crash.

"I feel very selfish about feeling that my daughter is OK. I feel sorry for the other mums. I want to go and see Bev [De Blecourt], but I don't know what to say. My girl is standing beside me; theirs isn't."

Adams sustained a broken hand, broken arm and was bruised all over. She phoned her mother, hysterical, at 3.06am on Sunday.

"She was just crying and calling for me. [She was] screaming, ‘Mummy, I need you, I've been in a crash'," Hamilton said. Hamilton went to the scene expecting to find "all the kids sitting outside the car", but instead found chaos.

"I just remember screaming at police officers to let me get to Caitlin," she said. She found her daughter sitting in the passenger seat of a stranger's car, "shaking, crying and trembling".

"She can't remember the crash. She doesn't know how she got out to the car, whether she flew out or what," Hamilton said.

"I don't know how [she survived]."

- The Press

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