Community mourns loss of policeman

Palmerston woman Nell Collyer signs a condolence book at the East Otago High School library...
Palmerston woman Nell Collyer signs a condolence book at the East Otago High School library yesterday for Senior Constable Stefan Witehira, of Palmerston, who died unexpectedly on Wednesday. The condolence book will be available for signing from 9am to 3pm today. Flowers for the Witehira family can also be left. Photo: Bill Campbell
A popular Palmerston police officer’s death has hit the East Otago community hard,  those who knew him well say.

Senior Constable Stefan Witehira, who was also the chairman of East Otago High School’s board of trustees,  died suddenly on Wednesday at the school’s year 10 camp at Glenorchy.

Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher said Snr Const Witehira, who was formerly based in Oamaru, was highly respected around East Otago not only for his police work but also his commitment to the community and his family.

"I think it’s something that’s hit the wider community a lot. He’s someone that’s been an important part of it for so long and obviously at still such a relatively young age, to lose him has been very, very tragic.

"Over his time he has been an excellent community man as well as a great police officer and great family man. He’s going to be definitely missed by a great many."

Otago coastal area commander Inspector Jason Guthrie said Snr Const Witehira would be sorely missed by his colleagues.

"Stefan Witehira was an incredibly competent and admirable police officer, who was immensely respected by his colleagues and everyone who knew him. He always displayed tremendous empathy and compassion with everyone he interacted with, and he was an integral part of the Palmerston community.

"His loss leaves a massive hole in New Zealand Police, in particular for us in the southern district, and he will be greatly missed."

In a statement, East Otago High School principal Lennox Sharp said Snr Const Witehira was well known in the community and news of his death had come as a shock.

"It is with deep regret we advise that Mr Stefan Witehira, the chairperson of the board of trustees, passed away during our year 10 camp in Glenorchy yesterday [Wednesday]."

"Stefan was a well-known and highly respected member of both our school and the East Otago community. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Witehira whanau during this most difficult time."

The school’s library was opened yesterday so people could leave flowers and messages of condolence for Snr Const Witehira’s family.

Snr Const Witehira and a colleague, Senior Constable Darrin Low, were shot at after laying road spikes during a police pursuit in February 2009.

The suspects in that incident were eventually overpowered and arrested.

The pair received Silver Merit Awards  for exhibiting "professionalism and courage" during the incident.

Senior Sergeant Jason McCoy, of Oamaru, was unable to be contacted for comment yesterday.

- Daniel Birchfield

Add a Comment