Road death: drivers “thought they‘d hit an animal”

It was on this stretch of highway approaching Tīrau that the man was struck by four vehicles. Image: Google Maps.

Two of the drivers whose vehicles struck and killed a man on a rural highway say they believed they’d hit a roaming animal in the darkness.

The Waikato couple, both aged in their 20s, had been driving in convoy from Karāpiro to Tokoroa on the night of Saturday, March 12, when the incident happened about 8.30pm.

Teacher Henry Heretama, from Hunlty, who police believe had been walking on State Highway 1 towards Tīrau, was hit by four cars in total and died at the scene.

Police released the 42-year-old's name today.

"Police extend our condolences to his friends and whānau," says a police spokesperson.

"An investigation into the circumstances of the crash is ongoing."

Stuff has been contacted by the mother of the woman, who wanted to speak up on behalf of her daughter and son-in-law, who had both been traumatised by the events of that night.

She was also concerned they were being unfairly vilified by some media reports that depicted them as a pair of hit-and-run drivers who had fled, rather than stay and help the victim.

“They are not like that at all. They are good people, they don’t drink, don’t smoke, they don’t do drugs,” says the mother, who asked not to be named, for fear of directing further ire towards her daughter’s family.

“They are a good family – they are not heartless. They are devastated by what happened. It was a pure accident.

“If they could take back what happened that night they would.”

The mother says her daughter had been driving the second vehicle, a SUV, that struck the man, and had been travelling just behind her partner to his parents’ house in Tokoroa, where they were staying.

She had two children in the SUV with her – their two-year-old son and a young nephew.

Her daughter and son-in-law had recounted the events of that night to her in graphic detail, she says.

“She had just finished work. They had both gone to Karāpiro to pick up a car, which was why they were travelling back home in two vehicles.”

Darkness had just fallen when the couple, who had both been stuck behind a slow-moving vehicle on the road to Tokoroa, reached a passing lane on the highway.

Her son-in-law had decided to overtake the slower car on the uphill passing lane.

“He said he just glimpsed something out the corner of his eye, something that resembled a wild animal.”

There had been no time to react.

“My daughter was driving along behind him and all of a sudden she was being showered with glass [from the impact ahead] and she saw something fly over the top of her.”

Her son-in-law had been shocked by what had happened, but did not want to immediately pull over to the side of the road, which would have been dangerous in the pitch darkness with other cars roaring up and down the stretch, she says.

“There’s no way in the world he thought he had hit a person.”

He had travelled further up the road towards Tīrau, while her daughter, equally shocked and disoriented, had turned into a side road. The pair eventually made contact with each other and then called the police.

Soon after the police had called back, telling them to stay where they were because it had been a human who had been struck.

They had given full statements to the police and had also been interviewed by Victim Support, the mother says.

“They are still in shock ... my son-in-law is going crazy with grief. He is a good man and he would sacrifice himself to save anyone else. They really want to meet the family of the victim to say how sorry they are.”

In the meantime, they had a message for the victims’s family: “Please know that this was not intended.”

The mother says she's planning to head to New Zealand as soon as she could, to support her family.

A police spokespersons says police would like to thank those who have already come forward with information in relation to the crash.

"We continue to appeal for further information and are interested in making contact with motorists who were in the area around 8:30pm.

"Anyone with information that may assist Police in our investigation can call 105 and quote file number 220313/9231."

Alternatively, information can be given to Crime Stoppers anonymously by calling 0800 555 111.

-Additional reporting by Stuff/Mike Mather.

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