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Slain road worker 'epitomised love'

Published: 5:18AM Thursday March 21, 2013 Source: ONE News/ Fairfax

The family of a road worker shot at a traffic stop near Tokoroa say the 67-year-old family man "epitomised love".

George Taiaroa, who worked for HEB construction, was shot on Tuesday afternoon at a traffic stop at the Tirohanga Bridge, near Atiamuri, in South Waikato.

His family have paid tribute to the grandfather they described as a "gentle giant".

"He was a humble man who, despite his quiet manner, had a fantastic sense of humour. For his wife, children and grandchildren, he epitomised love," the family said in a statement released to ONE News.

"George had a passion for fishing, diving and rugby and he loved to travel. He was very generous, always putting everybody else before himself. His favourite pastime was being with his family."

Taiaroa had four children with his wife, academic Dr Helen Taiaroa, and had at least three grandchildren.

Police say the family are struggling to come to terms with the circumstances of the death. However, they were finding strength "by focusing on his life, as opposed to dwelling on the manner in which he has been taken from them".

His body has been taken to Ngātokowaru Marae in Levin where he will lie until Saturday at 11am.

A post mortem confirmed he was fatally shot.

Police encouraged by community response

Police say they have been encouraged by the positive response from the community but are remaining tight-lipped on a possible motive for the killing.

They say they have received dozens of calls, particularly around sightings of the vehicle believed to be involved in the shooting.

"It's very clear that the community are motivated to help us, and the investigation team is equally motivated in following every crumb of information until we find who is responsible for killing Mr Taiaroa," said detective inspector Mark Loper.

"I must stress that just because we are receiving a wealth of information doesn't mean that we don't need more.

Police earlier told ONE News there were no significant developments in the case overnight.

Investigators are refusing to say whether the killing was a targeted or random attack.

Unexpected death

Taiaroa's whanau last night gathered at the family's Silverdale home, in the east of Hamilton.

Cars lined both sides of the quiet street as family and friends arrived to pay their respects.

Family spokeswoman Mereana Selby said Taiaroa's death had been an "unexpected and shocking event for everyone concerned".

"The family would like to acknowledge the overwhelming support they have received."

She asked for the family to be given the "space and time to deal with the loss of a loving husband, father and grandfather".

Horror

A road contractor earlier told of his horror when he came across a group of people trying to revive Taiaroa.

The man said he could see blood coming from Taiaroa's head but could not see his face.

The contractor arrived at the scene just after 3pm and offered assistance but was told the situation was in hand.

Soon after he left the scene, a dark blue vehicle sped up behind him.

"I thought I was going to be rammed," he said.

"But it overtook me and headed towards State Highway 1."

The contractor was still working in the area yesterday and said he was quite worried by what had happened.

Another contractor said he knew the truck driver who saw Taiaroa fall.

"He told me he saw the guy fall backwards and then a vehicle take off, and when he got up closer he said the guy had been shot in the head."

However, police said no gunshots were heard at the time.

Taiaroa's body was removed from the scene yesterday and would be returned to his family following an autopsy.

Derrick Adams, head of HEB Construction, said it appeared as if Taiaroa had been in the "wrong place at the wrong time" because he didn't normally work on traffic control.

He was normally associated with the construction of the new $24 million Atiamuri bridge replacement project over the Waikato River.

'A joker'

Taiaroa had been living temporarily at the Pukeko and Bull Tavern, and yesterday manager Lisa Campbell said he was a cheeky guy who was well loved by his colleagues and staff.

"We are absolutely devastated by what has happened," she said.

"Georgie was a funny guy - a joker."

About 30 of Taiaroa's colleagues gathered at the site of the shooting yesterday morning for a sombre meeting.

Detective Inspector Mark Loper said more than 30 experienced police staff were helping with the investigation but the community held the key.

"Every small piece of information could be vital no matter how small or irrelevant that it seems."

Part of the inquiry was to find out if it was a targeted attack but Anderson believed it was "clearly an isolated incident".

The armed offenders squad remained on standby last night and the Eagle helicopter from Auckland had joined the operation.

Loper could not confirm if a blue Jeep Cherokee seen by the Waikato Times behind the Whakamaru service station yesterday was linked to the case, though he did say they were looking for a similar vehicle.

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