Fatal crash driver a devoted father
The family of the sole survivor of a horrific head- on smash that killed four people, including his partner and son on the weekend, say he was a devoted father and there was no way he would have been drinking.
Roland Whitney, 59, of Putaruru, awoke from an induced coma and was in a stable condition earlier this week in Gisborne Hospital’s intensive care unit after four hours of surgery.
Mr Whitney was pulled from the fiery wreck of his Ford Explorer on Saturday night.
His 14-year-old son, Te Anau Wetini (Whitney), partner Helena Moore, 42, and a third person – understood to be Ms Moore’s son, Phoenix, 14, all died after the vehicle burst into flames about 9.15pm.
The driver of the other vehicle, Serena Smith, a mother of four, was also killed.
On Monday members of Mr Whitney’s family gathered in Rotorua to mourn the deaths and await news from other whanau, including his children and siblings, who had travelled to Gisborne to be at his bedside.
Mr Whitney’s cousin, Barbara Whitney, described him as being ‘‘very family-oriented’’ and said he hadn’t touched alcohol since his first wife died of cancer in the late 90s.
‘‘He used to be a big drinker, big smoker, all of that – gave it all up, the whole lot,’’ she said.
‘‘They said this accident was alcohol- fuelled and I know he don’t drink and he’s given up for years.’’
Despite an earlier report from police suggesting alcohol was a factor in the crash, Sergeant Greg Lexmond of Gisborne police said that information was wrong.
‘‘Those factors have yet to be determined through the crash investigation,’’ he said.
Ms Whitney said her cousin had seven children to his first wife and to learn that one of his sons and his partner had died would ‘‘devastate him’’.
‘‘It’s going to hit him really hard because he’s not only lost his son, but he’s lost his partner too. ‘‘He was close with all his kids.’’ She said that he liked to keep to himself, but enjoyed having a laugh with his whanau.
Mr Whitney had been driving to Gisborne for the long weekend as his partner’s family was from the area and they were considering moving there.
Resident Shayla Rata, attended Putaruru College with 14-year-old Te Anau and described him as ‘‘pretty cool’’ and always up for a laugh.
‘‘He was just cheeky, he always had something smart to say. But he was funny, real funny. It’s just sad, really,’’ she said.
Putaruru College principal Mike Ronke said Te Anau had been at the school for three years and was popular with his peers.
‘‘He’s a fairly quiet, reserved boy.
‘‘Like most year 10 boys he’s got a good group of friends at school.’’
Mr Ronke said a trauma meeting would be held at the school for students.
‘‘We’ll have counsellors and support in place for kids who are close to Te Anau, and his classmates and his other mates as well.
‘‘This sort of thing is always very unpleasant and it suddenly brings things home to kids as well.’’