French students and father-to-be killed after car crosses centre line on Hauraki highway
They were studying engineering in Auckland and were heading to Hobbiton in the Waikato for a weekend visit.
But in the dense fog of Saturday night, three of the five young Frenchmen died when their car collided with another driven by a local Paeroa man about to become a first-time father.
Around 7.40pm, the five male students, some of whom only recently arrived in the country to study, were driving south in a Toyota Corolla along State Highway 2 heading into the small town of Netherton on the main arterial route through the Hauraki Plains.
Heading north, Reece Anthony Growden, 25, had just picked up a black BMW and was heading to the car yard in Ngatea where he worked.
"A vehicle of French tourists has collided with an oncoming vehicle, which has caused three of the young Frenchmen to die and the driver of the oncoming vehicle has also died as a result of the collision," Hauraki and Thames-Coromandel road policing Sergeant Rachel Holmes said.
Holmes said early indications show the two cars crashed head-on after one vehicle, understood to be that of the students, crossed the centre line.
In the misty darkness, residents nearby reported hearing a large explosion when one car went up in flames before silence engulfed the scene.
Those living nearby ran to help the six men.
One truck driver, who also asked for anonymity, looked out his lounge room window to see a vehicle on fire just south of Fisher Road.
"I chucked my high-vis vest on and ran out to help," he said on Sunday.
"The car that was on fire ... there was no helping [any] people in there. It was too late to get the fire extinguishers, the flames covered the whole of the car.
"I got a torch and started searching the drain for bodies because it was dark and I wasn't sure if there were people flung from the car.
"That's when I saw there was a white vehicle in the drain."
Two of those inside the Toyota that ploughed off the road were able to escape the wreck and were taken through to Waikato Hospital.
On Monday a Waikato Hospital spokesperson said the pair, both men in their 30s, were in a serious but stable condition, one in the hospital's Intensive Care Unit and the other in the High Dependency Unit.
Holmes said police were told the group of friends were headed to Matamata to visit the popular Hobbiton film set.
"They were young engineering interns, some had just arrived in the country within the last few weeks."
She said work was still being done to formally identify the students and contact next of kin.
"The French Embassy is assisting the parents of the young Frenchmen and making arrangements for families to come over - they are families who have lost their sons and another two families who have got their sons but are very seriously injured."
"It was a horrific scene to attend for all of the witnesses who stopped to render assistance and the emergency services who dealt with it.
"From what they saw and dealt with, if any of those witnesses require assistance or counselling, just let us know."
Growden's mother Deane Olsen said her son had just found out his partner Ponamu King was pregnant with their first child, due in December.
"We found out a few weeks ago, he was absolutely looking forward to it."
She said her son was "born to drive" and had just been made a permanent staff member at Stuie's Cars at Ngatea.
"That was his dream job, driving cars to the car yard, he'd just found out he'd gone permanent and when I spoke to him on Saturday he was so stoked."
Olsen said Growden had just picked up the BMW and was taking it to the yard when he died just past Netherton on Saturday night.
"From what I gather, he moved over, the car hit him and his car burst into flames - he was 2 kilometres from the yard."
Reality of the loss had not yet sunken in for Olsen, who described her son as having a heart of gold.
"He was an angel, there are no bad words to be said about him, just a good kid."
Growden leaves behind two sisters aged 22 and 18.
Saturday night's crash was one of six fatal road crashes that had impacted on the local Hauraki and Coromandel communities since the end of last year, Holmes said.
"Not all occurred here, but they definitely affected the local community."
"There're too many young people dying on the roads, too many in total, but a number are young people."
She urged all motorists to allow extra time to travel and drive to the conditions.
If anyone has information about the crash or attended the crash and wants assistance they can call Thames Police on 07-867 9600