Residents in Putaruru are reeling from news that three people from the small Waikato community were killed in a crash that also killed mother-of-four Serena Smith, 33, on Saturday night.
Police believe the occupants of a Ford Explorer were travelling to Gisborne from Putaruru when their vehicle crossed the centre line and crashed head-on into an Odessa van. Police say alcohol was a factor in the crash.
Jessica McMillan, who is five-months pregnant, and partner Matt Butler had put their three-year-old boy to bed and were watching a movie about 9.15pm on Saturday night when they heard the smash outside their home on State Highway 2 north of Gisborne.
Ms McMillan said yesterday that the scene was like a horror movie. "We knew it was going to start [burning] as soon as we heard the bang and ran out there because there was a lot of smoke and you could smell the fuel.
"So we came out with wet blankets straight away."
On the road they found the twisted wrecks of Ms Smith's northbound van and the southbound Explorer.
The couple dragged the driver of the Explorer, a 59-year-old Putaruru man, from the vehicle and then Mr Butler and two others went to the van while Ms McMillan and another motorist went to the Explorer.
"I saw the guy in the back seat and me and another guy climbed in the boot to try and get him out.
"He was all entangled up in the seat and all squished up with his leg through to the driver's side.
"By that stage the fire had already started. It was so weird, it just started as a few sparks in the dashboard area. It was so quick."
She said the man was conscious as she climbed in the boot, but by the time the car started filling with smoke he was unconscious.
"We had to jump out because the car was going to explode. He was engulfed in flames within probably five seconds," she said.
"We didn't even realise there were two other people in the car. We thought it was just the two. We didn't even see them. We only found out there were more [the next morning], which is horrible."
While Ms McMillan and the man ran for protection from the heat, Mr Butler and the two other motorists tied a rope to the van and towed it away to prevent it catching fire.
"We didn't know if the lady in the van was alive or dead at that stage," she said.
"Everyone who was there tried everything frantically to get the people out".
Wet blankets and buckets of water from their house were futile against the fire.
Te Karaka chief fire officer Jamie Simpson said the car was fully ablaze when the brigade arrived and nothing could be done to save those inside.
He praised the actions of Ms McMillan and Mr Butler.
"It takes a lot to stand up and step forward in a situation like that and they need to be commended.
"More than likely they saved the survivor's life."
Last night seven people had died on the country's roads since the holiday period began.
National road policing manager Superintendent Carey Griffiths said the figure was too high.
"Your stomach just drops [when you hear of a fatal crash].
"Everyone of those is a family member or a loved-one of somebody and those families will not be looking forward to Labour Weekend ever again."
Reports from staff suggested driving behaviour across the country had been pretty good.
It was just a small minority who were letting the rest down, Mr Griffiths said.
- Waikato Times