Tourists warned daily of killer crossroads
CHRIS GARDNER AND WAYNE TIMMO
Tourists to Waitomo are warned every day of the dangers of the King Country intersection where American Kenneth Stithem died and his new bride was left critically injured, as calls mount for roading authorities to improve the corner.
"When you go to turn out watch yourself, I say," The Legendary Blackwater Rafting Company tour guide Ross O'Halloran said.
Mr Stithem, 31, died at the intersection of State Highways 3 and SH37 after pulling out in front of a concrete mixer at 9.20am on Thursday. His wife, Kirsten Steinke, 28, remains in a critical condition in intensive care at Waikato Hospital and requires further surgery.
The couple had married on September 14 in the United States and were on their honeymoon in New Zealand.
Ms Steinke worked as a marketing and communications co-ordinator at the University of Colorado Foundation. Foundation communications manager Jeremy Simon told the Waikato Times news of the tragedy was sparse in the couple's home area but starting to spread. He confirmed Ms Steinke and Mr Stithem, known as Kallan, were recently married.
"Kirsten is still with us . . . The thoughts and prayers of all the people at the University of Colorado Foundation are with Kirsten and Kallan's family and friends.
"Out of respect for the families involved that's all I can say."
Relatives of both Mr Stithem and Ms Steinke would now travel to New Zealand, the hospital confirmed.
The Waikato District Health board has been in contact with Ms Steinke's workmates in Denver, Colorado and made an email and Twitter account available for messages to her. Details can be found at waikatodhb.health.nz/kirsten.
Locals have regarded the intersection as an accident blackspot for years, but Mr Stithem's death is the second there since the New Zealand Transport Authority changed the layout late last year.
Mr O'Halloran said a pair of traffic islands had been installed and drivers often mistook them for a roundabout.
Such was the case with Canadian tourist Douglas Smith whose wife Michele was killed after their campervan and a truck collided at the same spot in February.
Fellow cave tour guide Zane Burdet, who has lived and worked in the area for 12 years, said the fatalities started after the road layout was modified.
"The solution is to put a ‘Major crash area, slow down to 70kmh' sign up and then police it," he said.
Waitomo District Council member Pat Hickey lives nearby on Te Kumi Rd and wasn't surprised to hear of another fatality.
"When you pull out of there you have got to look three or four times before you pull out. The traffic coming from Te Kuiti comes so fast. A lot of people wanting to turn right to Te Kuiti turn left to Otorohanga and turn around up the road just to be safe."
Deputy Mayor Allan Goddard said the intersection would be discussed at next week's council meeting.
"We will lobby the Transport Agency (NZTA) to have another look at it and see if there are other options that are safer because it is a high risk intersection."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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