Fatal crash driver a de­voted fa­ther

South Waikato News - - NEWS -

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.’’

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