School ‘reeling’ after three staff die in Levin crash


The principal of a New Plymouth school which has lost three staff members in a horror crash in Horowhenua says the community is reeling at the news.

Close up of a St John ambulance on a residential street.

Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

Four people died when a truck and another vehicle collided at Kuku on State Highway 1 just after 3pm Tuesday.

Devon Intermediate principal Jenny Gellen said the school’s caretaker, a teacher aide and a classroom teacher had died in the accident.

“Staff and students and the wider Devon whānau are absolutely shocked.”

Gellen said the three staff members were integral parts of the school community.

“They’re just extremely valued and important members of staff who are going to be really sadly missed by not only at the school community but the whānau, extended whanau and our school community.”

She would not comment on whether the staff members had attended the protest at Parliament yesterday.

Gellen said the school was getting support from the Ministry of Education trauma team and would stay open today.

“Absolutely we are. We are a community school and it’s an awesome place to actually have our kids supported and our whānau supported at the school.

“This is the kids’ normal and it’s about the kids and the whānau and if we close the children have nowhere to express [their feelings] other than their families – which are really important — but we’re keeping the school open.”

Gellen said the wider Taranaki community had been generous in their support.

“We’ve been inundated with messages and letters of support so just a huge thank you at this really difficult time for the school.”

New Plymouth Principals’ Association co-chair Brigitte Luke said the whole education community was affected by the deaths.

“We’re shocked and deeply saddened and our thoughts go out to the respective whānau at such a tragic time and obviously the school that’s dealing with this.”

She said the impact at Devon Intermediate would be immense.

“Well it’s huge … because it is the sudden loss of three staff members within a school setting in terms of the children, the staff and the wider … it’ll be huge.

“The priority will be ensuring the safety and well being of all mentally and emotionally and spiritually at this point of time.”

Police earlier confirmed the four deaths, and said officers had contacted next of kin.

Officers investigating the crash want to hear from any witnesses, and in particular from anyone on the road at the time who may have dashcam footage.

Central District road policing manager Inspector Ashley Gurney was at the site on Tuesday and described it as a complex and challenging scene.

State Highway 1 was closed in both directions for several hours after the crash.

Horowhenua Mayor Bernie Wanden said the stretch of State Highway 1 between Levin and Ōtaki was a risky and dangerous road that had been the site of numerous accidents.

He said the section of road combined open stretches with bends and bridges that catch drivers out.

Waka Kotahi said it had has planned a number of safety improvements for the stretch of SH1, including wide centre lines, stretches of side barriers and a review of speeds.

Work was scheduled to begin on this in mid-2022, but the transport agency was looking at bringing that forward.

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