Pleas for help sparked hunt

MARYANNE TWENTYMAN AND MIKE WATSON
Last updated 05:00 06/12/2012
GRIZZY FIND: Fire crew with the
Tracey Robinson

GRISLY FIND: Fire crew with the "jaws of life" at the scene of a burnt out car containing a body off State Highway 1 near Ohakuri.

Police teams, including this one stationed in the Karangahake Gorge, were on high alert around the Waikato region yesterday as they searched for a navy blue Toyota Surf SUV with a distressed family aboard.
BRUCE MERCER
Police teams, including this one stationed in the Karangahake Gorge, were on high alert around the Waikato region yesterday as they searched for a navy blue Toyota Surf SUV with a distressed family aboard.

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Waikato Police believe it is unlikely a man at the centre of yesterday's large scale search for his family and vehicle will face any charges as no offences have been committed.

However the man has been referred to mental health services for assessment.

Eastern Waikato Area Commander, Inspector Dana McDonald, said a Toyota Surf vehicle belonging to the 26-yearold man was stopped by Police in Napier after assistance from the public.

"The man, his wife and their two young children were all located safe and well in the vehicle about 7pm after members of the public again raised concerns about a distressed woman in the vehicle,'' he said.

"As a result officers were able to respond in a timely manner and the issue was resolved without incident, no charges have been laid at this stage and it is unlikely that they will. The man however, has been referred to mental health professionals for assessment."

Mr McDonald said the report from the public in Napier mirrored a similar report in Cambridge earlier in the day and he commended the people involved in each contact with Police as playing a pivotal part in the successful conclusion of yesterday's incident.


"These two interactions highlight the value of members of the community, often alerted of issues by the media, taking an active part in the prevention of crime.

"It is by being aware of your surroundings and realising when something doesn't appear right, then acting on that realisation, that enables Police to act in a timely manner."

The hunt began in Cambridge about 2.20pm when police were alerted by a member of the public about a family seen in a distressed state. However, the family were found safe and well after being stopped by police in Napier last night.

"A considerable number of police from across the Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Northern Communications Centre and now Eastern District have been involved in the search for the family and I would just like to acknowledge their efforts."

Speaking to TV3 Mr McDonald said, "In Cambridge the female member of the vehicle spoke to a member of the public just saying she was scared for her safety and to ring police."

Soon after, unconfirmed sightings of the vehicle near Waihi led police on a district-wide hunt for the vehicle. The car was believed to be travelling between Waihi and Tauranga yesterday afternoon.

And last night members of the Armed Offenders Squad were seen gathered at the Waihi Police Station.

The male driver of the Toyota vehicle was understood to be a licensed firearms holder, adding further concern to an already tense situation.

However, police confirmed last night that no firearm was found in the vehicle.

Last night one Waihi business owner, who did not give his name, said there had been many police vehicles travelling "backwards and forwards through town".

"We were just wondering what the bloody hell was going on - we haven't seen the vehicle they were looking for," the man said.

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In a statement released about 8.30pm last night, Mr McDonald thanked the public for their help.

The incident was just one of many police operations in the greater Waikato region yesterday.

Police are treating the discovery of a body in the burnt wreckage of a car in a forest plantation beside State Highway 1 as an unexplained death, at least until an autopsy is completed today.

The body was discovered when Taupo firefighters attended an alert from a passing motorist of a vehicle burning off the road between Ohakuri and Maroa, 25 kilometres north of Taupo, yesterday morning.

Police and Fire Service investigation officers sifted through the burnt wreckage on the edge of a large plantation.

The scene was hidden behind a large mound and could not be seen from the road.

Police spokeswoman Kim Perks said the death was being treated as "unexplained", rather than suspicious, at this stage.

The area was cordoned as the scene examination continued throughout the afternoon in drizzling rain.

Police were expecting to complete the examination and remove the body last night, she said.

They would be unable to provide any information until the body was identified and family notified.

"It's too early to say whether the death is suspicious, so the death is being treated as unexplained until more detail is known."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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