Candlelight vigil for five people killed near Te Awamutu crash near Hamilton: community rallies for families

A candlelight vigil will be held for the five victims of a crash in rural Waikato, with plans for the community to gather in the week of the anniversary of New Zealand’s deadliest recent crash.

Those who died were Paul and Lois Grimmer, who were in one car, and Piata Ofufangavalu, Cheyene Love-Mitchell and Suliasi Lefai, who were in the other. Funerals and tangi will be held over the next few days.

The accident occurred at 4.44pm on Tuesday on State Highway 3 near Te Awamutu, approximately halfway between Hamilton and Te Awamutu.

The accident has left an indelible impression on the satellite towns around Hamilton, not least because it came less than a week after an accident on the same road killed James Parlane, a notable member of the Waikato community who was serving as Waipā councillor.

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Tuesday night’s crash was also the country’s deadliest since seven people died in a crash in Picton in June 2022.

Ofufangavalu’s relatives remembered her online as “always young and beautiful…our first love.”

One of Grimmer’s relatives said he was devastated to learn that his uncles had died.

The organizer of next Tuesday’s vigil said it was for people to “come together as a community and remember those who are no longer with us.

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“Being so close, we feel the impact and want to be able to show our gratitude to the first responders, medical teams, firefighters, police officers and everyone involved in helping in such a tragic event.

“This is the time when we can come together, come together and just show aroha to those who need it right now.

“Words can’t even describe how you must feel and while support is available, it’s not always easy to ask for. “So this vigil is a way for them to hopefully find some solace in the community spirit and some peace.”

Police blocked State Highway 3 in Ōhaupō after a crash that killed five people.  Photo / Mike Scott
Police blocked State Highway 3 in Ōhaupō after a crash that killed five people. Photo / Mike Scott

The vigil was scheduled for 6pm on Tuesday June 4 at Selwyn Park in Te Awamutu.

Local Taranaki-King Country MP Barbara Kuriger previously told the Herald The news was anyone’s worst nightmare.

“It’s going to be a difficult road for families and it’s terrible news for the community,” he said.

Kuriger said many people in the community would need support after the incident and that she would “absolutely” provide it to affected families.

“This is devastating,” he said.

The causes of the accident are still being investigated

Inspector Jeff Penno said the two cars collided after one crossed the center line.

He previously said the cause of the accident could remain unknown for months.

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“We don’t understand why it happened,” Penno had said.

The police would check if any of the drivers were drunk.

Inspector Jeff Penno addresses the media after five people died in a crash in rural Waikato.  Photo / Mike Scott
Inspector Jeff Penno addresses the media after five people died in a crash in rural Waikato. Photo / Mike Scott

“While we always look at the environment, early indications are that road factors on this particular stretch of road are not to blame.

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

The Serious Accident Unit had carried out a “meticulous examination of the scene” on Tuesday night.

“And the findings of that examination and the forensic evidence obtained will be incorporated into the accident investigation, which will likely take several months,” Penno said.

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“I was devastated” – witness

Meanwhile, a man, who did not want to be named, previously told how he drove past the accident as medics arrived.

He described the scene as “very bad.”

“I could see that there were two cars involved, it looked like the truck had overturned. I was devastated.

“People had gathered around the car, I think there were two people inside.”

At first he thought it must have been the remains of a previous accident.

It wasn’t until he got home that he discovered five people had died.

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“It’s really sad news.”

Raphael Franks is an Auckland-based reporter covering breaking news. He joined the Herald as a Te Rito cadet in 2022.

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