Man ‘too scared’ to find out if Sophia died

Sophia Crestani. Photo: supplied
Sophia Crestani. Photo: supplied
A former romantic partner of Sophia Crestani said he was "too scared to find out" whether she was dead.

Coroner Heather McKenzie’s inquest into the 19-year-old’s death continued yesterday 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.

A witness, who has interim name suppression, was a tenant at the flat known as The Manor and said he had "a thing" with Miss Crestani.

At the party, he gave her a hug and kiss before heading to his room.

That was the last time he saw Miss Crestani.

The tenant explained later when emergency services arrived he left the house and people were embracing him.

"I was just confused and didn’t know what happened," he said.

Someone told him they thought Miss Crestani was not breathing and another said someone had been stabbed.

"I didn’t want to believe it, so I didn’t ring her or try [to] contact her," he said.

"I was too scared to find out the truth."

The witness stayed at a friend’s house, but was struggling to sleep.

Someone he knew knocked on the window and told him Miss Crestani had died.

The witness explained The Manor hosted two large parties earlier that year and they prepared for this one in the same way.

Another party-goer and friend of Miss Crestani’s, Annelise Lockie, was caught in the pile-up of bodies.

"I was terrified. I thought that I was going to die ... I felt completely hopeless".

She and some friends spent about an hour at the hospital waiting for Miss Crestani to show up.

She said the incident had had a "lasting impact" on her.

The witness said she was not sure exactly what caused her to fall down the stairs.

"I don’t think there was physically enough space for everyone to be there," she said.

She recalled a man lying next to her in the pile-up. She rubbed his head and told him he was going to be OK.

Ms McKenzie teared up when thanking Ms Lockie for her evidence, and said it was "incredibly moving".

Another tenant at the flat, who has interim name suppression, was also involved in the pile-up of what he estimated to be 30 people.

The tenant recalled being "all tangled up in the bodies" at the bottom of the stairs.

"I knew there [were] a lot of people in the pile-up ... there was so much weight," he said.

He said his leg was stuck and people trampled over him to get out the door.

A witness who was also a tenant at The Manor, and has name suppression, said the North Dunedin environment created some pressure to host parties, especially in a named flat.

"Whether it’s right or wrong there seems to be an expectation to have parties, and have parties we did," the witness said.

He told police people started "pouring in" about 8pm.

"It appeared to be just like the other parties we had run. The party felt safe to me."

Ms McMillan asked the witness if he thought opening the door to let people into his room could have eased the congestion and possibly prevented Miss Crestani’s death.

"Obviously, yes," the witness said before becoming upset and explaining the evening haunts him.

He said they had barricaded doors in the house to prevent people from causing damage in specific rooms and to stop them from getting on to the external balcony.

The witness explained the tenants had the 2016 balcony collapse in mind when boarding up the doors and believed this would help contain the party and prevent a similar situation.

"Retrospectively, that was one of the worst decisions we’ve ever made," the tenant said before breaking down in tears.

The inquest will resume today and more party-goers are expected to give evidence.