Tourist couple's families reunite after crash tragedy

Last updated 05:00 24/09/2012
Kirsten Steinke and Kenneth Kallan Stithem
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JUST MARRIED: Kirsten Steinke and Kenneth Kallan Stithem.

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Parents of the American couple whose honeymoon ended in tragedy after a crash near Waitomo Caves have been reunited with their children.

Gary and Jean Stithem, of Denver, Colorado, are now with the body of their son Kallan, 31, who died at the scene of the collision at the intersection of State Highway 3 and 37 on Thursday.

Jim and Gerri Steinke, also from Denver, are keeping a vigil at their daughter Kirsten's Waikato Hospital bedside where she remains in a critical condition after surgery.

Mr Stithem is the second tourist to die at the spot since the New Zealand Transport Authority modified the notoriously dangerous intersection of State Highways 3 and 37 late last year.

In a statement the parents of the bride and groom thanked those who responded so quickly at the scene, including fire-fighters, two passing midwives, emergency service personnel and the Westpac Waikato Air Ambulance.

"They also singled out the service provided by Air New Zealand as part of their bereavement policy. From the moment both couples checked in at Los Angeles International Airport, Air New Zealand ensured they were "red tagged" right through to Auckland Airport and fast-tracked through Customs with the help of the New Zealand Police," the statement said.

“We also want to express our heartfelt appreciation for the generous offers of assistance from New Zealanders who understand our sorrow and tragedy. The enormous generosity of so many people of this nation has touched our hearts. Thank you all,” the couples said.

Waitomo Mayor Brian Hanna has expressed his frustrations over the NZTA's so-called improvements to the intersection, in which a pair of traffic islands were installed, after the first death there in February.

"They have been telling me there's nothing wrong with it," he said. "They need to seriously look at it because it's just ongoing. This is clear evidence that the changes they have made has not lessened the danger."

Locals say the changes are confusing to tourists and the council plans to discuss the accident at its meeting tomorrow.

Messages of condolences can be sent to the families at news@waikatodhb.health.nz or via the board's Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Meanwhile, an Auckland teenager received life-threatening injuries after the car she was travelling in careered off Thames Coast Rd on Saturday night.

The crash happened near Waiomu when the northbound vehicle left the road.

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The girl, who was airlifted from the scene, was one of three in the car.

- Waikato Times

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