Te Puke row: Teen describes moment car struck man

A teenage boy cried during a police interview when he described the moment he hit a man with the car he was driving.

A teenager wept as he told police he “sped up” and then ran down the partner of an enraged woman who was in the front seat of the car he was driving.

“I sped up and hit him... [he] went flying off the car and onto the road, and then I turned around and ran him over again.”

The boy broke into tears as he described the incident during a police evidential video interview played in the High Court at Hamilton today.

Later in the interview, he told police he thought the man “would have jumped out of the way”.

The teenager, who has name suppression, is defending a murder charge, alongside Ephron Ronaki, whose partner was hit, in a trial that began last week.

It’s alleged Ronaki, 40, was egging on the teenager, instructing him to run over her partner, Taku Manu Paul.

The court heard Paul was also baiting them to hit him with the car.

Paul and Ronaki had been drinking heavily one afternoon and evening in late 2022. They began arguing over Ronaki’s suspicion that Paul had taken $500 she had been gifted for Christmas.

After they parted ways that night, their intoxicated arguing continued over the phone.

Ronaki and a car full of teenagers were on their way to track down and confront Paul, and attempt to retrieve the money, when they rounded a corner and spied him walking along a back street in Te Puke.

One of the teenagers, who had been in the backseat, told the court she heard Paul over speakerphone, shouting that the car should run him over.

Ronaki had also been shouting at the driver to “run him over then”, or words to that effect, the teenage witness agreed under cross-examination by defence lawyer Ron Mansfield, KC, who represents the teenage defendant.

Paul was hit, and then after performing a U-turn on the dead-end street, the boy ran him over a second time.

Between the first and second hits, the car had erupted into chaos, the court heard from the teenage passengers.

Both Ronaki and one of the teenagers had been screaming and trying to grab the steering wheel. The boy had remained silent during the seconds before the man was hit, and the further seconds before he repeated the act.

He said in his video interview that the woman had been swearing at him, and screaming at him to stop, but he’d kept driving.

Paul was later found on the road by passersby. A 111 call was played in court where a woman’s distressed voice could be heard saying “he’s not breathing and he’s white and pale.”

When paramedics arrived Paul had no pulse, wasn’t breathing, and wasn’t able to be revived.

He was pronounced dead at the scene.

But the teenagers in the car said that even after they realised Paul had been hit twice, they hadn’t expected him to die.

Under cross-examination by defence lawyer Andrew Schulze, who represents Ronaki, one of the teenage passengers confirmed she’d told police they had thought he would be okay because he was “a tough c***”.

After the incident, the woman handed herself in to police. She also faces a charge of perverting the course of justice, and the Crown case is that she made a false confession to protect the teenager from police prosecution.

Two of the boy’s friends have given evidence during the trial.

One of them said, during cross-examination, how they’d met up with him after the incident and the usually upbeat boy had been very quiet, in shock and not sure what to do.

He said the teenage boy had described feeling “yuck” about what had happened, and agreed with Mansfield’s proposition that the teenager had been “withdrawn” and not himself.

The court heard from several witnesses that the boy hadn’t been in trouble with police before, had been attending high school, and had a part-time job at the time of the incident.

The Crown case is that the teenager, encouraged by the woman, deliberately ran over Paul, driving on the wrong side of the road and partly up the curb to hit him.

The trial continues.


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