Waikato's day of death

Emergency services are at the scene of an accident on Whakamaru Rd where a vehicle is believed to have crashed over a bank.
Emergency services are at the scene of an accident on Whakamaru Rd where a vehicle is believed to have crashed over a bank.

The bodies of a family of five, including a 3-week-old baby, who were killed when their vehicle ran off the road and smashed into pine trees, may have lain in the mangled wreckage for up two days.

The wreckage of the late-model blue van was discovered by road workers yesterday on Whakamaru Rd, between Tokoroa and Whakamaru.

It was the second fatal crash in the region attended by emergency crews within a matter of hours.

Father and son, Dilip Kataruka, 56, and Madhav Kataruka, 19, from Jharkhand in Eastern Indian, were killed on State Highway 1 near Atiamuri after colliding head-on with a truck travelling in the opposite direction. They died at the scene.

The male truck driver, and a female passenger, both from Kaitaia, were treated at Tokoroa Hospital for minor injuries.

Within the hour road workers discovered the wreckage of the family's vehicle on Whakamaru Rd.

Inside were the bodies of Richard Melling, 37, and Lisa Crowley, 23, and three children, Jordan Melling, 11, Brody Crowley, 2, and a 3-week-old baby.

The family were barely six kilometres from their home in Mountview Close, Whakamaru, when their van ploughed off the road into a tree.

It appeared the vehicle crossed the road onto a steep bank, rolled and smashed into two mature pine trees on the edge of a cutover pine forest plantation.

The wreckage was wrapped around the trunk of the second tree, with the windscreen thrown four metres away in scrub.

The extent of the damage made the vehicle make and type virtually unidentifiable.

A pink deflated airbag rested on the driver's steering wheel, beside a McDonald's takeaway bag, and a child's plastic green and blue toy boat nearby.

The impact had dislodged the engine from the chassis.

Rotorua Fire Rescue crew and Tokoroa police worked for more than two hours with the jaws of life in light rain to extricate the bodies of the five dead.

Taupo area commander Inspector Steve Bullock said it was an "absolute tragedy" not just for the families, but all the friends of everyone involved.

"In fact, it's a sad day for all of us, especially with a young family and tourists to New Zealand.

"But it's also a reminder of just how quickly lives can change and we ask people to be careful, to think and to drive to the conditions."

Mr Bullock said they were still trying to trace the movements of the dead family, who were last seen on Sunday at 8pm in Whakamaru.

The family were well-known in Whakamaru, a small hydro power settlement alongside the Waikato River.

Whakamaru Food Supplies worker and friend of the family Kirti Singh said they were "very nice, down-to-earth people".

Ms Crowley would come to the shop most days with her golden-haired "very cute" son Brody.

Ms Singh said the family did not have a lot of money and so they would give them leftovers from the store each evening.

It was always greatly appreciated and, in exchange for their generosity, Ms Crowley and Mr Melling would mow the lawns outside the shop for free, often without even telling the owners.

Mr Melling ran a lawnmowing business, she said.

A neighbour of the family, who asked not to be named, said he heard them leave the house early on Sunday.

They may not have been seen or heard again until their bodies were discovered yesterday afternoon in a car wreck, in a ditch, wrapped around a tree. Police are still trying to determine the causes of both fatal crashes.

"Speed, alcohol, inattention and restraints, or lack of thereof, are the number one factors that contribute to fatalities on our roads and we want people to think about all of those things before they get behind the wheel of a vehicle," Mr Bullock said.

"It's actually going to ruin the Christmas for the families involved and everyone involved. It's an absolute tragedy, especially young children on our roads.

"Again, it affects the wider community when something like this happens so close to home and so close to, I suppose, a family time as Christmas."

Assistant Commissioner of road policing Dave Cliff said the crashes were a devastating prelude to the Christmas holiday period, which begins officially next week.

Last night, a solitary bouquet was fastened to the front gate of the dead family's home.

The home - pale blue - was empty with curtains drawn.

Waikato Times