‘It’s not fair’

Daugh­ter of Taupo crash vic­tim gut­ted at loss of man she re­garded as her rock

The New Zealand Herald - - FRONT PAGE - Sarah Har­ris

He had just cel­e­brated his 60th birth­day and had “so much life ahead of him”. But Leighton Ahuriri’s life was cut short by Tues­day’s two ve­hi­cle pile-up near Taupo that claimed four lives and left eight oth­ers bat­tling a raft of in­juries.

His daugh­ter, Kirsty Ahuriri, was gut­ted her dad’s life was taken so sud­denly. She re­mem­bered him as “her rock” — a man who lis­tened and never judged her and her three sib­lings. “He had just cel­e­brated his birth­day and was on hol­i­day. It shouldn’t have ended up like this. It’s not fair. We were still on a high from his party . . . It’s just the way he went is heart­break­ing.”

Yes­ter­day, po­lice re­leased the names of the peo­ple who died in the State High­way 1 crash.

Mele Ilis­api Oliveti, 44, a Ton­gan na­tional re­sid­ing in Palmer­ston North, died in one ve­hi­cle.

He­lena Adele Paul, 56, Leighton Phillip Ahuriri, 60, and 5-year-old Hone Te Ahurei Hawkins-Kanuta died in the other car. A 10-month-old boy, be­lieved to be Hone’s brother, is in Star­ship Hospi­tal. The baby is in a sta­ble con­di­tion.

Kirsty Ahuriri did not know Paul and Hone, who were trav­el­ling with her dad, but thought Paul must have been a friend of his.

Orig­i­nally from Gis­borne and home in New Zealand from Aus­tralia, Ahuriri was work­ing at Perth Air­port. Paul and Hone live in Kaikohe in the Far North.

Ahuriri had flown into New Zealand last week for his birth­day party on Fri­day. He then planned to hol­i­day around the coun­try and visit his chil­dren.

The fam­ily had blown up he­lium bal­loons in colours to match the blue, red and cream cake, set up a present ta­ble and or­gan­ised a buf­fet feast in a rented room at The Cof­fee Club in Taupo for his birth­day, Kirsty

said. The night was full of cel­e­bra­tion with his chil­dren, grand­chil­dren and friends.

Kirsty wanted her dad to be known as the amaz­ing cheeky man she re­mem­bered.

“When he’s around all his moko [grand­chil­dren] that’s when he’s alive. His face lights up.

“He did re­ally silly things to em­bar­rass us when we were young. At the shop­ping mall he’d dance around like a bal­le­rina. He was su­per cool. The eas­i­est-go­ing dad.

“He’d just lis­ten and never judge us. He al­ways 100 per cent sup­ported us no mat­ter what we did or what de­ci­sion we made.”

While Ahuriri en­joyed com­ing back to New Zealand, he loved Perth, Kirsty said. He was look­ing for­ward to go­ing back to work and plan­ning a cruise in Fiji next year.

“He had so much life ahead of him.

“He was ready to live life with the peo­ple who made him happy.”

The plan was to move Ahuriri to Gis­borne today, where fam­ily would flock from around Aus­trala­sia to put him to rest.

Paul and Hone have been taken to Manga­muka marae in the Far North.

Leighton Ahuriri had just turned 60.

Jeanette Ahuriri, Princina Ste­wart, Leighton Ahuriri and Kirsty Ahuriri.

The hor­rific crash north of Taupo left four peo­ple dead and eight with mod­er­ate to se­ri­ous in­juries, in­clud­ing a 10-month-old baby.

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