Crestani inquest: Party guest considered jumping off roof

Students gather outside the flat where Sophie Crestani (inset) died in 2019.
Students gather outside the flat where Sophia Crestani (inset) died in 2019.
A woman who attended the party where Sophia Crestani died says she “seriously considered jumping off the roof” to avoid using the crowded stairs.

Coroner Heather McKenzie’s inquest into the 19-year-old’s death continued today in Dunedin.

Miss Crestani died in a stairwell pile-up in 2019 at a flat party dubbed "Maggot Fest", which 400 people were invited to via Facebook.

Since then, her parents - Elspeth McMillan and Bede Crestani - have advocated for safe student behaviour in Dunedin.

Kennedy Nichols said she had been to parties at the flat known as “The Manor” before and had experienced overcrowding on the staircase.

“I seriously considered jumping off the roof to the ground as I had concerns about going back down the stairs,” the witness said.

She said people were “hammering” on a bedroom door but the occupants refused to open it.

“That really upset me as that was my only hope gone,” Ms Nichols said.

“People were hysterical, yelling and crying.”

The witness said she did not believe people appreciated how close so many had come to death.

Jackson Egerton was also on the stairs near the time of the pile-up.

“I couldn't stop the pushing from behind,” he said.

“The next thing I remember is holding the girl who passed away.” 

He said she was turning “pale and blue” and he carried her outside and emergency service staff performed CPR on her.

“I was honestly just in shock, obviously it was quite a traumatic experience for me,” Mr Egerton said.

Mr Crestani thanked the witness for his attempt to help Miss Crestani.

“Jackson, you picked up our daughter. . . you took her outside to try and save her, thank you.”

“Sorry I couldn't be more help,” the witness replied.

“You did everything you could - more than most.”

Another party-goer, who also has interim name suppression, also spent some of the night in the room near the bottom of the stairs.

He said the party was “pretty hectic” and there was “a bit of argy bargy”.

“It wasn't fun out in the flat anymore, it was just too busy,” the witness said.

Another man, Matthew Fisher, who was a DJ at the party helped to pull people out of the pile-up.

“The whole thing was pretty shocking,” he told the inquest.

He explained even at about 10:30pm, the stairs were congested.

“I’d been to a few crowded parties before so I never really thought that it would be much of an issue,” he said.

Another man who attended “Maggot Fest”, who has interim name suppression, gave evidence about when emergency services arrived.

“It was quite full on,” he said.

“It was pretty serious and intense.”

He saw a woman getting CPR down the street which he said left him feeling shaken up.

'It was a massive crush of people"

A friend of Sophia Crestani has described the moment she found out the student was dead.

The friend, who has interim name suppression, gave evidence about attending the party at the flat known as "The Manor".

The witness found out her friend had died once she got home.

"No one actually said the words, but we all knew," she said.

The witness was on the stairs moments before the pile up.

"It was just a massive crush of people," she said.

"People were swaying forward and tipping over."

Until then, she said the party was the same as any other in North Dunedin.

"I didn't notice any issues at the party . . . it was nothing out of the ordinary," she said.

She said plastic on the floor and closing off rooms were common at student parties.

She was sure she was pulled into a bedroom by a tenant - but that witness could not recall that.

She could hear "panicky screams".

"I don't remember thinking much of it at the time," she said.

"I don't think anyone in the bedroom knew the extent of what was going on outside."

She accepted there were inconsistencies in her recollection, but said everyone in North Dunedin was discussing the tragedy.

"It was a very traumatic and tough time for a lot of us," she said

A tenant at the flat, who has interim name suppression, agreed there was nothing unusual about the party.

"The previous parties would run in the exact same manner," he said.

He said he did not think the house was overcrowded, but spent the night upstairs and could not see the bottom of the stairwell.

Mr Crestani asked what safety precautions the hosts took.

"Ironically, the boarding of the doors was for guest safety," he said.

He explained they were worried about people getting on to the balcony.

"We didn't think that the safety concern would come where it did," he said.

"All the advice in the world couldn't have given us the advice we needed."

All of the tenants of The Manor who were witnesses have finished giving evidence, and Coroner McKenzie thanked them.

"I know it's not been easy to be returned to the night of the party," she said.

The inquest will continue tomorrow and more people at the party are expected to give evidence.