1 Feb 2016

Behaviour of teens in crash 'not typical' say police

3:33 pm on 1 February 2016

The behaviour of four teenagers who stole a car which then crashed in Masterton, killing two boys, is unusual for the area, say police.

Generic police car.

Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Pacer Willacy-Scott and Hoani Korewha died yesterday after police abandoned a pursuit because of the dangerous way the car was being driven.

Family and community leaders have been expressing their grief over the boys' deaths on Facebook.

Detective Senior Sergeant Barry Bysouth said the car was going so fast over speed bumps sparks were flying as it scraped the ground, before it hit a power pole in the town's main street.

Mr Bysouth said the teenagers' behaviour was not typical for the region, although teens would always be teens. He said the police did as much preventive work as they could.

Meanwhile, the organiser of the Featherston's Rangatahi to Rangatira youth group, Hope Sexton, said Pacer Willacy-Scott was a lovely young man who was always there to help and had potential as a leader.

The two other boys who were in the car are in a stable condition in hospital.

The boys' deaths come just a week after a 16-year-old Auckland girl was killed following another police pursuit. Eden Nathan was also travelling in a stolen car, driven by a 15-year-old girl, which crashed following a police pursuit in Mangere on 24 January.

Police must pursue dangerous drivers - Judith Collins

Police Minister Judith Collins told Morning Report young people endanger themselves and the public by fleeing police.

"Police are in a very, very difficult position when they've got people driving stolen cars dangerously and actually putting everybody, including themselves, at risk."

She said the fact that the occupants of the car were not old enough to be driving didn't change that.

"They're not of age, they're stolen cars, they're driving dangerously - what would you like the police to do?"

Detective Senior Sergeant Barry Bysouth told Morning Report that police involved in the Masterton incident had stopped the pursuit "almost immediately". He said the incident had been captured on CCTV.

"Queen street in Masterton has speed bumps all the way through deliberately, to slow vehicles down.

"There's no evidence of brake lights on this vehicle and the speed was very, very quick, so much so that - it's difficult to see because it's dark - but you can see sparks from the road where the vehicle is hitting the road after going over those bumps."

He said the speed would be determined by the serious crash team investigation.

Ms Collins said it was unfair on police to suggest they should not pursue in such cases.

"I think it's very important that police not give over the roads to people who steal cars and then drive dangerously."

The officers involved in the abandoned pursuit were now facing an investigation by the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA).

"They've watched as this terrible tragedy has unfolded, and they're the ones who have to go and pick up the pieces, basically.

"I have huge sympathy for them - they're traumatised by it and actually I'm so proud of them that they go through this and they continue to go to work the next day."

Asked how police make it clear they have stopped their pursuit, Ms Collins said police pull back, and turn off their lights and sirens.

US, Tasmanian police no longer pursue cars

Ms Collins told Morning Report police were always looking at policy changes such as those in Tasmania and the United States, where police no longer pursue cars in such cases, without it having any impact on law enforcement.

She said police here are working with the IPCA, which brings out recommendations from time to time.

"I think it's incredibly difficult to go through these cases and try and second guess what police are doing.

"But I would also say that when these young people get into stolen cars, they don't know how to drive properly they just know how to put their foot down. And unfortunately what they're doing is they're killing themselves and it's a miracle if they don't kill anyone else."

Mr Bysouth said he was confident the officers involved in the Masterton crash had behaved appropriately.

"And recognising risk to the public and the fleeing drivers themselves, [police] withdrew from the pursuit using their own judgement of the situation."

He asked that everyone pull over for police, no matter what the circumstances.

"Nothing is worth the tragic loss of life as we found in this instance. These youths would have been interviewed by police and back home by daylight if they had just pulled over."

Vigil for dead teens

More than 50 mostly young people gathered at a vigil in Featherston, Wairarapa, last night to remember the two teenagers who died after the the stolen car they were in crashed in nearby Masterton early on Sunday morning.

They and the two other boys in the car were all aged 14 and 15.

The driver lost control on a speed bump and crashed into a lamp post. None of the boys in the car were old enough to have a driver's licence.

RNZ News was told the boys were from a group known locally for causing trouble.

But the Wairarapa youth development co-ordinator for the Anglican Church, Alan Maxwell, said they were always polite and respectful.

He said the boys wanted to be busy and useful, but like other young people, they sometimes caused trouble when they were bored.

"They made bad choices, we've all been there, at some point we've got to look at how we can stop that cycle."

Mr Maxwell organised the vigil in the boys' hometown last night. It was a very emotional time, he said.

"Everything from anger to devastation and just sad, I mean at the end of the day it's a small town, they all knew these people very well. Some of them were with them even yesterday and now they're not here with us."