New roading Sergeant Rachel Holmes urges drivers to slow down
It's been a rough few days for Rachel Holmes, who took on the job of Thames-Coromandel Hauraki road policing Sergeant a month ago.
In the past few days, she has only had a few hours of sleep. That's because within those few days, five people lost their lives in vehicle crashes on the district's roads.
A two-vehicle crash in Netherton on June 17 claimed the lives of Paeroa father-to-be Reece Growden and three young French students.
Another young person died in a single vehicle crash in the 70km/h area in Puriri township on June 14, when the car left the road and hit a concrete block wall.
Those accidents were two of six fatal crashes involving people from the Thames-Coromandel and Hauraki areas since Christmas, she said.
"They tell me these things happen in groups but I'm finding a lot of the accidents that we're attending are being caused by speed," she said.
"If there was a safety message, that would be it, just to take more time, allow more time for your trip and be aware of your speed and drive to the conditions."
Over Queen's Birthday weekend, police stopped three vehicles for driving in excess of 141km/h, resulting in automatic driver licence suspensions.
Since then, there had been a spike in the number of vehicle accidents throughout the district, especially on the Kopu-Hikuai Rd, she said.
"We can attribute them in some way to the nature of the road, the fact that it is steep and windy in parts, but on the other side of that, you've just got to take more care and drive to the conditions."
The road policing team were planning to run road safety operations throughout the district, including spending time policing high risk areas, she said.
They were also working with the New Zealand Transport Agency to improve high risk areas where possible, such as the Kopu-Hikuai Rd.
Holmes grew up in Manurewa, South Auckland, before her family moved to Tauranga when she was a teenager.
She moved to Dunedin to study a Bachelor of Science before joining the police force in Dunedin in 1999, aged 23.
In 2004, she worked in the Solomon Islands for six months, where she met her husband, Brent Holmes.
When she returned to New Zealand, she transferred to West Auckland, joining the Henderson CIB.
In 2009, she joined the CIB in Thames, working part time for a number of years while raising their two children, Lewis and Oliver, before accepting the position as road policing Sergeant a month ago.
The road policing team includes five officers, based in Coromandel, Waihi, Thames and Whitianga.
One of the biggest concerns for the team was the wider impact of vehicle accidents in the community, Holmes said.
"Waikato, in particular the east, has always been high in the number of fatalities, I guess one of the reasons behind that would be the large number of rural highways.
"And we also get a lot of drivers from Auckland through the district and then you get the fatigue factor when people have come for a holiday and spent a long weekend and then drive home."
Drink driving was still a factor, but didn't appear to be a major factor within the area, she said.
"From my short stint here, it seems that our speed is just creeping up, speed and driver behaviour."