30 May 2024

Victim of horror Waikato crash being farewelled at Te Awamutu College

3:13 pm on 30 May 2024
Five people have been killed in a crash on State Highway 3 / Ōhaupō Road near Te Awamutu on 28 May, 2024.

Police at the scene of the crash on State Highway 3. Photo: RNZ / Natalie Akoorie

One of the five who died in a horrific head-on collision on State Highway 3 on Tuesday is being farewelled at Te Awamutu College this afternoon.

Piata Otufangavalu was being taken to the high school's O-Tāwhao Marae at 2pm, according to an outline of her tangi which will end with a burial in Ngunguru, near Tutukaka in Northland on Sunday.

Police have not yet released the identities of those who died in the 4.45pm crash but Stuff have named Otufangavalu, Suliasi Lefai, Cheyene Love-Mitchell from one car, and Hamilton couple Paul and Lois Grimmer in the other car.

It is unclear if Otufangavalu is a current Te Awamutu College student and principal Tony Membery was unavailable for comment.

Dr Sharon Toi, a kaupapa Māori researcher, posted on Facebook of her heartbreak at the loss of Otufangavalu who she described as, "Our big girl... Piata... forever young and beautiful... our first love".

She posted a video of Suli Lefai with her whānau.

Lefai has also been named by a Tongan newspaper as one of the five crash victims.

A spokesperson for the Snowden and Otufangavalu whānau declined to comment.

Scene of a fatal accident where 5 people died on State Highway 3 SH3 south of Ohaupo 28 May 2024

One of the cars involved in the crash. Photo: Supplied/NZ Police

Meanwhile, a relative of the elderly couple, Paul and Lois Grimmer of Whatawhata, on the western outskirts of Hamilton, posted a photo on social media of the husband and wife taken at Lois Grimmer's 50th birthday.

"Don't have the words... Eternally and forever nan and pop. Until I see you both again soon."

Police did not confirm the names of the deceased and a spokesperson said police were still working to formally identify them which may take some time.

Asked if nitrous oxide canisters were found at the scene, the spokesperson said police were "looking at all factors that may have been involved in the vehicle crash of which the role of drugs and alcohol is one of many factors police will examine".

On Wednesday, Waikato police roading manager Inspector Jeff Penno said police could not rule out that impairment may have been a factor in the crash, which happened on a three-lane stretch of the highway just minutes north of Te Awamutu.

"Impairment is always something we look at, so to ensure all drivers are sober and not just alcohol but legal and illegal drugs, and that is certainly a focus of this accident."

Inspector Jeff Penno speaks to media following a fatal crash that killed five people near Te Awamutu on 28 May 2024.

Waikato police roading manager Inspector Jeff Penno. Photo: RNZ / Libby Kirkby-McLeod

He also said while speed was not a factor, the speed limit on the 100km/h road may be too high.

The crash wreckage came to rest across two northbound lanes not far from the home of Margaret and Dane Alexander.

The pensioners were at home when they heard a bang and Margaret went to her kitchen window.

"The car that had crashed was sideways on it's side, on the northbound lane and you couldn't see. And then the fire engines arrived and they just put a big cover over the car which we thought wasn't a good [sign]."

Waipa mayor Susan O'Regan said the community was reeling at the loss of life, and so soon after a fatal crash further up SH3 on Friday that claimed the life of former Waipa councillor Jim Parlane.

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