He paid with his life: Cop

KILLED: The driver of this car, a 17-year-old boy, was killed following a police pursuit in Hamilton.
KILLED: The driver of this car, a 17-year-old boy, was killed following a police pursuit in Hamilton.

Police have released the name of a 17-year old who was killed when he crashed a stolen car in the early hours of Waitangi Day after a short police pursuit.

He was Rocky Joe Kohatu Hepi of Hamilton.

A small group gathered yesterday morning at the crash scene, on the intersection of Baverstock Rd and Wexford Rise in the rural suburb of Rotokauri.

It was just hours after the  youth, known as "Rock", had been thrown from the vehicle he had stolen from a Dinsdale address.

Also in the 1991 Nissan Maxima was a 14-year-old boy, travelling in the front seat, who was last night in a critical condition in Waikato Hospital with serious leg and abdominal injuries.

A 15-year-old girl, who had been wearing a seatbelt, was uninjured.

One woman, who asked not to be named, visited the crash scene before going to support the driver's mother yesterday. She said her son had died in similar circumstances six years and one day earlier.

As she looked at the skid marks left by yesterday's crash she said "it feels like it happened with my son yesterday and I am going to see his mother today".

Waikato police district commander Superintendent Win van der Velde said the driver was on a learner licence which did not allow him to carry passengers or drive after 11pm.

He said the police pursuit had started at 1.38am after the driver of a police patrol car saw the Nissan being driven along Rotokauri Rd without its lights on.

Police turned on their patrol car's lights and sirens and the Nissan slowed before pulling away at high speed.

Mr van der Velde said the officer abandoned the pursuit after about 15 seconds "because of the speed of the other vehicle and the erratic nature of the driver".

The officer watched from the brow of a hill as the Nissan, more than 500 metres in front of him, hit a road sign and then a retaining wall in front of a home.

He found the youth lying a short distance from the vehicle on the footpath.

The officer tried to administer first aid but the youth died at the scene.

"The entire incident lasted a little over 30 seconds and lasted approximately 1.5km," Mr van der Velde said.

He could not say how fast the fleeing vehicle was going. "From the skid marks, the fleeing vehicle was travelling at speed.

"It's tragic, this is all about young people making poor decisions.
"Tragically this young man, because of a combination of what in isolation could be accepted as minor poor judgments, has paid with his life and left a number of people having to come to terms with his loss."

Yesterday the family whose Nissan was stolen were attending a wake for a family friend - just three doors down from the crash scene.

Three investigations are now under way including the Waikato Police Serious Crash Unit which left the scene mid-morning yesterday.

The Independent Police Complaints Authority and the coroner would also conduct investigations into the incident.

The authority recommended on Monday that police review and change their policies after a motorcyclist suffered serious bodily harm, including a severe brain injury, when he crashed during a police pursuit in 2010.

Mr van der Velde said it appeared the appropriate procedures in managing the fleeing driver incident were followed.

He described the pursuing officer as another victim who saw a car travelling with no headlights on and then less than a minute later was fighting to save the youth's life.

Jeanette Schick, whose wall the stolen car hit, said she slept through the crash and learned about it from a neighbour after dawn.

"What an awful thing to happen," she said. "I feel sorry for his parents and his friends."

Police are expected to formally name the 17-year-old driver this morning.

Waikato Times