A bright light, extinguished

Death rips out family's 'backbone'

MATT BOWEN
Last updated 08:40 07/02/2013
Ronz Hohaia Grey
Bruce Mercer/FAIRFAX NZ
Grief-stricken: Ronz Hohaia Grey on the spot where his daughter died in a fiery car crash.

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Words fail Ronz Hohaia Grey time and again as he talks about his "baba girl" and the fiery car crash that took the 17-year-old's life just metres from where he's standing.

Raw anguish hits first. Then the tears come. And the sobs.

It's hard to hold the grief at bay when he's thinking of his daughter Cheyenne Smith Grey.

She was the family's backbone, ripped out, he says.

A bright light, extinguished.

It was a hot afternoon on November 22 last year when the car she was travelling in crashed on rural Duck Rd, just west of Hamilton.

The two-door Mazda Lantis swerved off the road, hit a culvert, flipped onto a paddock fence and rolled for some 20 metres before bursting into flames.

The driver, a male and a female emerged with moderate to minor injuries.

But Cheyenne was thrown from the vehicle.

Witness Bob McPike rescued her from the flames yet she died in the long grass over the road from where Mr Grey now stands with a framed picture of her.

"The day before we buried her we came here and put some flowers down," Mr Grey says. "When we came around the corner it was like a scene from hell. But her final breath was here. And you have to take all this in and try and move on."

Sharing his experience is part of that.

It may just stop another young driver playing fast and loose with their precious human cargo, he says.

On Sunday Mr Grey erected a self-carved memorial cross to his youngest child on one of the replacement fence posts.

Hanging from one arm is Cheyenne's dream catcher adorned with one of Mr Grey's carvings and a waka ama medal from her elder brother Kingsley.

It was two hours after the crash that Mr Grey saw two police officers at his door in central Hamilton.

"Here's me thinking, Cheyenne might have been shoplifting or something," Mr Grey says.

"First they said Cheyenne was in an accident. There were four in the car and that Cheyenne was the fatality.

"It changed everything - upside-down. It was so unreal.

Victim Support weren't far behind.

"I wasn't having bar of any of it. It didn't sound real, having seen her that day."

Mr Grey visited her in the morgue at Waikato Hospital.

He took his guitar and sang songs to her. He's still singing to her but now she's in the ground at Ngaruawahia Cemetery across the railway tracks beside her maternal grandmother.

Cheyenne's tangi was at nearby Turangawaewae Marae. Her bloodline goes back to the captain of the Tainui waka and she was given a farewell fit for royalty, Mr Grey says.

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It was there he met, and welcomed, the driver's mother.

"I said to her [the driver] ripped a link out of our whakapapa. That's what he did. He didn't have to do that."

It's the day-to-day moments that Mr Grey misses most.

"Her coming in through the door. Her leaving to go out for the day, saying, ‘Dad, I love you'. Kissing me. I'll never get that back. I'll never get back that ‘I love you', and that kiss."

There's still a court case to go through. Charges will be laid against the driver and Mr Grey hopes they reflect the severity of his family's loss.

"You hear about accidents from an outsider looking in. You're reading about stories of loss and you don't know how it's affecting them. But now you know how it feels and it rips you up.

"Appreciate your young ones and the ones that you love because they can be taken away in a blink of an eye, like Cheyenne."

- Waikato

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