Death, injury and flames legacy of festive season
By Dean Taylor
It must be the blackest summer for the region ever as police teams from Te Awamutu and further afield investigate the murder of a Te Awamutu man in Kawhia on New Year’s Day, a serious assault in Kihikihi just four days earlier and an arson in Kihikihi.
Te Awamutu’s detective sergeant Ross Patterson returned to work on Thursday, December 28 and that night was called to a suspicious fire in Walmsley Street, Kihikihi. Just 24 hours later he was heading another investigation after a brawl in Kihikihi’s main street left a Te Awamutu man fighting for his life in Waikato Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit.
Dennis Tua Brown (37) was the victim of a violent assault, possibly hit on the head by a weapon. He has since been shifted to the hospital’s High Dependency Unit where he remains in serious condition.
Then on New Year’s Day the whole nation was shocked by news that there had been a murder in the sleepy seaside village of Kawhia. Te Awamutu man Gareth Pehina Te Huia (23) died of stab wounds after a fight in Apakura Street shortly after 5am. He and the accused, 41-year-old Te Kuiti man Perry William Tuwhangai, were acquainted according to family, and had been partying at a nearby property. In a further twist, assault victim Brown and murder victim Te Huia are cousins. Te Huia was also one of the men arrested for disorderly behaviour for being involved in the Kihikihi brawl.
But CIB head detective senior sergeant Mike Whitehead says that is where the relationship between the two incidents stops.
Tuwhangai appeared in Hamilton District Court and was remanded in custody without plea.
Enquiry head detective sergeant Neville Ross says he is reasonably sure police have identified and spoken to everyone who can assist with the case. However, he says if anyone believes they have information and have not spoken to police, they can contact him at the Te Awamutu Station (872 0100).
Mr Ross says after a disappointing initial reaction to police intervention, the people involved in the enquiry have been generally co-operative.
Kawhia constable Craig Blakely was awoken to news of the murder at about 5.30am when two men rushed to the local station. As he prepared himself to attend, and tried to contact reinforcement police staying off-site, the two men turned their frustrations on police property.
Mr Blakely confronted the men, who were attacking police cars, and they then turned on him. He suffered facial injuries and cuts and had to wait for other officers to assist before he could attend the murder scene, complete with his own injuries.
Police and ambulance staff were met by a hostile crowd, which initially hindered the operation. Mr Ross says people were fuelled by alcohol and emotion and reacted badly. He described as highly disappointing the assault on constable Blakely, and obstruction of police and ambulance officers at the scene, but says once police established control people soon calmed down and became more co-operative.
Owners of the Apakura Street house, where an all-night party had been conducted, laid the matter to rest later on New Year’s Day when they torched the building. Police say they had completed their scene investigations, so were not really concerned about the fire, apart from some mediation between the family that owned the condemned house and neighbours whose properties suffered some superficial damage.
Two men aged 20 and 22 were arrested and charged with assaulting Mr Blakely and intentional damage to police property. They appeared in court and were remanded on bail until Thursday, January 25. One man has since been arrested for breaching bail.
Their actions, and those of people at the crime scene towards emergency staff, were reminiscent of what also took place during the brawl at Kihikihi. Medical attention for Brown was not immediately available as members of both fighting groups turned on police.
RIOT IN KIHIKIHI
Mr Patterson describes the scene as riotous, especially when everyone involved began throwing missiles, initially aimed at each other, at police, who at the time were concerned about a victim and quelling further violence.
Police say the fight was pre-arranged - they had already been called earlier to break the groups up and had found weapons hidden in Rewi Maniapoto Reserve.
Initial reports the fight had spilled from the Star Tavern were unfounded according to police. They also have conflicting stories about the victim’s involvement.
Star Tavern publican Podge Macpherson told the Courier Brown had been drinking in the bar and went outside for a smoke and accidentally got involved in the brawl which had moved from the reserve, across the State Highway and into the alleyway beside the pub, between Lyon Street and Leslie Street.
Mr Patterson says someone involved in the fight, or a witness, must know who or what hit the victim. Up to 50 people were involved in, or observing, the fight when police arrived. The brawl continued for about 15 minutes.
The groups of mainly local young men, plus a few out-of-town reinforcements, armed themselves with bludgeon type weapons, hid extra weapons nearby earlier in the day, and met to ‘sort things out’.
Mr Patterson says police need to identify and speak to everyone involved in the brawl, and identify those who inflicted the serious assault on Brown.
He is disappointed at the number of people reluctant to give information. Anyone who believes they have information that could assist police, especially independent witnesses, are asked to contact Mr Patterson at the Te Awamutu Station (872 0100).