‘Worst night of my life’: witness recalls pile-up

Bede Crestani
Bede Crestani
A witness involved in the pile-up in which Sophia Crestani died said the party was "the worst night of my life".

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.

Samuel Tillotson recalled the flat known as The Manor was very hot from all the people inside.

"There was condensation dripping from the ceiling, it was gross."

He saw Miss Crestani on the ground and her body was in "a mangled or messed up position".

"I knew that she was dead when I saw her.

"Her eyes were strangely open and staring at nothing."

During the crush, Mr Tillotson recalled a bedroom door opened and a man popped his head out before closing the door again.

"It would’ve been hard for him not to notice what was going on.

"I’m not sure who would be that selfish."

He helped pull people from the pile for about 20 minutes.

"Thank you Samuel for what you did that night ... you, no doubt, saved the lives of a lot of people," Mr Crestani said.

Joshua Scott said at the party he was "like a stick in a river being pushed around".

He heard the balustrades crack because of the crush on the stairs.

"There was a lot of panic in the air. It was just terror."

He saw Miss Crestani on the ground and alerted police outside.

"Her head looked like it was snapped back.

"She was [as] pale as a ghost."

Jacob Syme was caught in the pile and quickly felt faint.

"I was unable to breathe — the weight was too much."

Someone dragged him out and he began pulling people to safety.

He recalled the pile "moving like lava".

Mr Scott yelled that someone should call the police, but nobody seemed to understand the gravity of the situation.

"One guy just pulled out his phone and started recording instead of making the call."

A witness, who has interim name suppression , said she saw Miss Crestani’s face next to her at the bottom of the pile-up.

Mr Crestani thanked the witness for coming.

"I’m sorry it’s not Sophia instead," she said.

"As well," he replied.

Ms McMillan asked the witness how the night had affected her.

"It was the worst night of my life, by far.

"I thought I was going to die."

Samson Aruwa helped pull people out of the pile but it was difficult as others were walking over the fallen bodies and people were still trying to get into the house.

"The pile was never-ending."

He helped carry Miss Crestani to safety and believed her neck was broken when he lifted her.

He recalled someone saying "holy f... she’s dead".

Ms McMillan thanked Mr Aruwa for helping people in the pile-up and believed more would have been injured if not for his actions.

"To our family you’re an absolute hero," she said.

"We are eternally grateful to you."

The court heard Mr Aruwa was a pallbearer at Miss Crestani’s funeral.

The inquest will resume today and police witnesses are expected to give evidence.