Saturday, November 27

School is reeling after three staff members were killed in Levin’s accident

The principal of a New Plymouth school that lost three staff members in a horror accident in Horowhenua says the community is reeling from the news.

Near a St John ambulance on a residential street.

Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

Four people were killed when a truck and another vehicle collided in Kuku on State Highway 1 shortly after 3 p.m. Tuesday.

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

“The staff, the students, and the entire devon whānau are absolutely shocked.”

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

“They are extremely valuable and important staff members who will be so sadly missed not only by the school community, but also by the whānau, the extended whanau and our school community.”

He declined to comment on whether staff members attended the protest in Parliament yesterday.

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

“We absolutely are. We are a community school and it is an amazing place for our children to be supported and our whānau to be supported at school.

“This is normal for children and it is about children and whānau and if we close, the children have nowhere to express themselves [their feelings] in addition to their families, who are really important, but we keep the school open. “

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

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

New Plymouth Principals Association Co-Chair Brigitte Luke said the entire educational community was affected by the deaths.

“We are shocked and deeply saddened and our thoughts turn to the respective whānau at such a tragic time and obviously to the school that is dealing with this.”

He said the impact on Devon Intermediate would be immense.

“Well it’s huge … because it’s the sudden loss of three staff members within a school setting in terms of the kids, the staff and the rest … it will be huge.

“The priority will be to ensure the safety and well-being of everyone mentally, emotionally and spiritually at this time.”

Police previously confirmed the four deaths and said officers had contacted the closest family members.

Officers investigating the accident want to hear from witnesses, and in particular anyone on the road at the time who may have dash cam footage.

Inspector Ashley Gurney, the Central District road surveillance manager, was at the site Tuesday, describing it as a complex and challenging scene.

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

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 the road combined open stretches with curves and bridges that trap drivers.

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

The work was scheduled to begin in mid-2022, but the transportation agency was considering taking it forward.

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