10 May 2019

Sole survivor of Waverley crash that killed seven apologises for tragedy

7:17 pm on 10 May 2019

The sole survivor of a horror crash near Waverley that killed seven people admits she and her partner, who was driving, were high on synthetic cannabis.

Ani Nohinohi and her supporters approach the witness stand.

Ani Nohinohi and her supporters approach the witness stand. Photo: Photo / Leigh-Marama McLachlan

A coronial inquest is underway into the head-on collision in Taranaki on 27 June last year.

Ani Nohinohi was the only survivor of the crash that killed her two children and partner, along with four elderly occupants of the other vehicle.

Police said it was the car Ms Nohinohi was in, driven by her partner Jeremy Thompson, that crossed the centre line.

Ms Nohinohi said she and her partner had smoked several cones of synthetic cannabis that morning before driving. She said he was always safe when he drove on "synnies" and she thought he would be fine to drive.

She was not sure if she or her eight-year-old daughter Nivek Madams, who died the next day, were wearing their seat belts.

They were heading to Rimutaka Prison to see Nivek's dad, Kevin Madams. He was involved in the hearing through video link.

Wearing a black t-shirt with an image of her dead children on the back, Ms Nohinohi wiped back tears all morning.

The crash put her in intensive care and she missed the tangi of her partner and two children. She suffers from a brain injury and is on medication for pain.

The scene of the crash on SH3 that claimed five lives.

The scene of the crash on SH3 near the Waverley Race Club in June last year. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

Ms Nohinohi would not say so herself but in a statement read out by Nivek's godmother, Joy Clark, she apologised widely.

"I am very sorry about the tragic outcome for so many families and friends of all the people who have died as a result of the accident on June 27, 2018," she said.

"Because of some poor choices, seven people lost their lives. I am sorry for all who are suffering."

Ms Clark said it was difficult for Ms Nohinohi to express herself because she had a moderate brain injury.

"I know how much regret Ani has over this. There is not a day that she does not think about all the people that died."

She said her biggest concern was that people who had witnessed Mr Thompson driving under the influence of drugs previously never spoke out or told him to stop - and now it's too late.

"If you had spoken up and given Jeremy a chance to stop - maybe we would not be here now."

Ms Clark said she was worried about the backlash on Ms Nohinohi, and said the grieving mother had suffered enough.

map including Waverley

Waverley, near where the crash occurred, is north-west of Whanganui. Photo: Te Ara Encyclopedia of NZ

The son of victims Ian and Rosalie Porteous, Logan Porteous, said losing his parents had been devastating and the fact that the driver was on drugs made it worse.

"Completely numb at the time, and to be honest, the grief has not hit. This is something you just have to deal with," he said.

"Absolutely preventable. People have the choice. Everyone has the choice to either drink, or in this situation, take drugs, and get in the car."

Ian Porteous' sister Ora Keene also died, alongside friend Brenda Williams. They were in their 70s and 80s.

During the hearing, Mr Porteous asked Ms Nohinohi whether she understood the impact of her and her partner's actions.

Ms Nohinohi apologised to him when she was in the dock, and he thanked her.

But afterwards, outside, he said that he felt angry at times during the hearing and that it was very hard to have to deal with.

"I felt there was a lack of admission of their fault, simple as that."

He would not comment when asked if he would forgive the other family, but said he felt some closure after the hearing.

Now, Mr Porteous is calling for the government to enable the police to carry out random drug tests on the roads.

Coroner Tim Scott.

Coroner Tim Scott Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

"We believe if government don't do something urgently, then we will fight to see that this is brought in and that our police officers have the ability to do random drug testing.

"We need drug impaired drivers off the roads. Accidents caused by drugs now exceed those caused by drink driving."

Coroner Tim Scott was kind and considerate throughout the hearing, offering Mr Madams and all relatives of the victims an opportunity to speak and ask questions.

He made a note of protecting Ms Nohinohi from any untoward behaviour in the court room, and said he would stop anyone who was going to give her a hard time.

At the end of the hearing, Mr Scott raised a question posed by Mr Porteous to Ms Nohinohi earlier, where he asked her if she knew the impact of the incident on his family.

"My comment would be if anyone does have some idea, it is likely to be her. She suffered horrendously too, with the death of three close whānau members," Mr Scott said.

He will deliver his decision in writing at a later date.