Chaos in car that struck down passenger's partner

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Screaming, shouting, and passengers grabbing for the wheel.

Chaos erupted after a car full of teenagers, and a drunk woman in the front passenger seat, allegedly ran down the woman’s partner in a Te Puke street, shattering the windscreen.

A teenage girl who was in the back seat told a court she’d been screaming in anger, yelling "what the f***" after the teenage driver hit the man.

As the driver did a u-turn in the dead-end street, the passengers were in a panic, with the drunk woman allegedly punching the driver and yelling at him, while trying to grab the wheel.

He managed to turn the car around, before he hit the man a second time, this time as he was lying on the road.

When paramedics arrived the man had no pulse, wasn’t breathing, and was later pronounced dead at the scene.

The teenage driver and 40-year-old woman Ephron Ronaki are on trial in the High Court at Hamilton, jointly charged with murder.

The Crown alleges Ronaki encouraged the teenage driver to run down her partner, Taku Manu Paul, which he did, twice.

The court heard evidence from two of the teenage passengers who were in the backseat of the car when it struck Paul late one night, towards the end of 2022.

The teenage girl said the carload had been on their way to confront Paul, as Ronaki thought he’d stolen $500 she’d been gifted for Christmas, and she wanted to get it back.

The court heard evidence that Ronaki and Paul were having a screaming match over speakerphone, as Ronaki sat in the front seat and the carload headed for a party nearby, where they understood Paul might be.

A teenage boy who was in the back seat said, under cross-examination by defence lawyer Caitlin Gentleman, that less than a minute after he and another teenager had been picked up to assist in the confrontation, they rounded a corner and saw Paul walking on the side of the street.

Screaming back and forth between Ronaki and Paul had continued - with them baiting each other about the car running Paul down.

The teenager told Crown Prosecutor Marc Corlett KC that Paul had been saying "to get run over".

Under cross-examination by the driver’s lawyer, Ron Mansfield KC, he agreed with Mansfield’s proposition that Ronaki had responded by screaming words to the effect of, "yeah run him over", to the teenage driver of the car.

The teenage passenger’s evidence earlier in the trial was that within a matter of seconds of Paul being spotted, he’d been struck and the windscreen shattered.

It had been "too quick to even think", he told Gentleman.

The teenage girl who’d also been in the back gave evidence about the chaos both before and after the collision on a back street in Te Puke.

Messages over a group chat were read to the court, which suggested the carload of teenagers had been enlisted to help Ronaki confront her partner over the missing money.

Ronaki was said to be upset after arguments with Paul that had been going on all evening.

Messages between teenagers included, "Lol [she’s] crying", and references to Paul needing a "hiding" and a "bottling" and requests for the confrontation to be filmed.

The car had picked up the two teenagers from a Te Puke address.

Both teenagers told the court that when they got in the car and saw Ronaki she was very drunk.

A police excess breath alcohol test taken by Ronaki some hours after the incident gave a reading of 695 micrograms per litre of breath.

One of the teenagers said under cross-examination that, based on how he sounded over speakerphone, it seemed Paul had been drinking heavily too.

As Paul was spotted, the phone argument between Ronaki and Paul escalated to threats of the car hitting him; Paul egging them on.

Seconds later he was hit. The car did a u-turn, heading back the way it came, and struck him again.

The teenage girl said in her evidence-in-chief that the moments between the two hits were chaotic, loud, and full of fury.

She said while one of the teenage boys in the back had been trying to calm her, she had been screaming and there had been yelling and fighting in the front seat.

"I was just yelling what the f***", she said.

"I dunno what I was saying but I was just mad."

After the incident, Ronaki handed herself into police. She told them she had been driving and had hit her partner.

She’s charged with perverting the course of justice for the alleged false confession, which the Crown says she made to protect the teenage driver from prosecution.

The trial continues.

 - Hannah Bartlett, Open Justice reporter