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Unlikely Wairoa teen would have driven drunk - cousin

Published: 6:37AM Friday January 27, 2012 Source: Fairfax

They were a gang of shearers, happy to be heading home from three days' hard yakka at a remote station and a few beers after work.

Only 25 kilometres from their dinner tables in Wairoa, the car driven by Watson Tipu, 30, was ripped apart like "a can in a can opener" when it and a 4x4 vehicle smashed head-on on State Highway 2.

Tipu had bought the car just a month ago. On Wednesday night, it was a mangled heap after the crash, which killed Tipu, his friend in the back seat, Kennedy James Weir, 49, and half-brothers, Raimon Keefe, 16, and Zyah Gianni Marsh, 13.

The men worked in a shearing gang for contractor Roy Perata, and were on their way home from a three-day stretch at Moeangiangi station. They were killed on the Mohaka Hill, north of Raupunga.

Vincent Hajnal-Huata, 17, a front-seat passenger, was the only survivor. He was badly injured.

The 62-year-old driver of the 4x4, John Mort from Whitianga, was badly injured. Both he and Hajnal-Huata are stable in hospital.

Police say Tipu's Toyota Avalon crossed the centre line about 7.30pm while negotiating a 65kmh bend, into the path of Mort's vehicle, which was towing a boat and travelling south.

Tipu died in the driver's seat. Weir, Raimon and Zyah were not wearing seatbelts and were thrown out of the car.

Police crash scene investigator Senior Constable Corey Ubels said the car was torn open "like a can in a can opener", with both righthand-side doors ripped off.

Speed and possibly alcohol are thought to have been factors. The car was seen driving at high speed immediately before the crash.

A blood sample has been taken from Tipu's body and will be tested for alcohol.

His cousin Casey Fryer believed Tipu and the others had celebrated a job well done with a few drinks after work, but said Tipu did not drive drunk.

"I think it's unlikely he would have drunk then drove. We have lost a lot of family because of drink-driving."

Tipu's brother lost the mother of his children in a serious accident on the Napier-Wairoa road almost 10 years ago.

Tipu's friend Ashley Simmonds said he was respected in the community. Tipu thought of himself as a "fix-it man" who preferred quiet nights at home to going out with friends, and was responsible with alcohol.

Weir's sister Karen Stuart said he was born and bred in Wairoa, and had always been a shearer. He had a son, James Dean, 20, and a daughter, Lou-Aesha, 16, who lived in Christchurch and would attend the funeral in Wairoa.

She said her younger brother was "a hard-doer who liked a drink or two. He'd take the shirt off his back to help you".

Wairoa College principal Brian Simpson said Raimon had left school last year and Zyah had been taken out of school as he understood he was moving to Australia.

"Zyah was a good kid. He had a big ambition to follow in family footsteps and become a shearer when he was old enough."

A friend of Mort's, Marty Bowers, said a member of his fishing club had spoken to Mort and "he seems as chipper as he can be. He's got a broken ankle, among other things, but he's alive and well; that's all that matters."