Opotiki brawl death 'gang-related'

Opotiki mayor John Forbes says he believes the death of a 21-year-old man after a fight on Sunday night was gang-related.

Mr Forbes told TV3's Firstline the town had a gang presence similar to other towns across the country.

When asked whether he thought the death of Joe Collier, who died in Whakatane Hospital on Sunday after a fight on Goring St, was gang-related, he said he was "led to believe it [was]".

"There's no reason to think that it wouldn't be," he said.

"We do have a gang presence... we do have an unemployment problem."

He said there was not a violence problem in his town and most people were waking this morning and "getting on with life".

Police have called for calm and co-operation following the death of Mr Collier.

At 7pm on Sunday, police were called to Goring St, where a number of people were fighting. A few minutes later, an ambulance picked up critically injured Mr Collier, who had collapsed in nearby King St, and took him to hospital where he died a short time later.

People living in Goring St and spoken to by the Rotorua Daily Post said two neighbouring homes, both sharing one driveway, were lived in by members of opposing gangs.

Although unconfirmed, the Rotorua Daily Post has been told of up to three retaliatory incidents in the town yesterday.

Police communications manager Kim Perks confirmed a call had been received about a person holding a firearm and a shot fired near Opotiki College, although police could not find any evidence of this.

She could also not confirm if the incidents were gang-related. Mrs Perks said although two factions were involved in Sunday night's incident, it was not known what had caused the initial dispute.

"Just because there are gang affiliations with people involved, it was not necessarily a gang dispute. We are working to find out what sparked the incident."

Eastern Bay of Plenty police area commander Inspector Kevin Taylor said the community were asked to remain calm and to co-operate with the investigation into Mr Collier's death.

"We fully appreciate that this is an emotive time for the community of Opotiki and it is clear Sunday night's incident has caused some tensions in the town.

"It is really important that we are able to focus our efforts on supporting the family of the young man who died and identifying the person responsible for his death, rather than having resources redirected to deal with growing tensions.

"The best way people can assist the man's family is by co-operating with the investigation and passing on any information that might assist us as soon as possible."

He said the community could be assured police were taking the death seriously and had a large team working on the investigation. A Goring st resident, who did not wish to be named, told the Rotorua Daily Post people involved in Sunday night's assault were members of opposing gangs who lived side-by-side.

"From what I understand, there was a bit of a run-of-the-mill fight between people living in the two homes. They both called for back up and, in the fight that eventuated, a weapon was produced with deadly results."

The man said most people in the street would have heard the commotion.

"For years we've had red living beside blue, living beside yellow," the man said. "And that's because nearly everyone is related."

Police have increased patrols in Opotiki to provide additional visibility and public reassurance.

Forensic examination of two houses in Goring St are continuing and police are awaiting the outcome of a post mortem.

- Katee Shanks of the Rotorua Daily Post and APNZ

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