Hero police officer dies during camp
A police officer once shot at while pursuing a suspect has died while on a school camp.
Palmerston Senior Constable Stefan Witehira died on Wednesday at a year 10 camp for East Otago High School students. He was chairman of the school’s board of trustees.
Emergency services were called to a Glenorchy property, near Queenstown, about 11.45am after Witehira went into cardiac arrest.
East Otago High principal Lennox Sharp issued a statement mourning the loss of its ‘‘community leader’’, who was the chairman of the school’s board of trustees.
‘‘Stefan was a well-known and highly respected member of both our school and the east Otago community. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Witehira wha¯ nau during this most difficult time.’’
Dunedin North MP David Clark said Witehira’s death was ‘‘a huge loss for the community’’.
‘‘I had enormous respect for Stefan, the constructive way he went about community policing. My thoughts are with his family and the people of Palmerston during this difficult time.’’
Witehira and colleague Senior Constable Darrin Low were shot at while laying road spikes south of Palmerston on February 2, 2009.
The two men later received Silver Merit Awards from the New Zealand Police for exhibiting ‘‘professionalism and courage’’ during the incident.
The male shooter was a passenger in a stolen truck, which a woman was driving, during a police pursuit. The couple had two infants in the vehicle and the police officers would later testify that one was used as a human shield.
Witehira and Low pursued the truck until it crashed. The occupants ran several kilometres through the countryside. Police eventually overpowered and arrested the suspects.
At the time, Witehira said: ‘‘We were just doing our job.’’
The East Otago High School’s library would be open from 9am until 3pm for those wanting to leave flowers, messages or food for his family.
Police have been approached for comment.
Senior Constable Stefan Witehira