Ōtorohanga Mayor Max Baxter confirms gang members involved after man dies in Waikato township

Emergency services were called about 6:30pm to reports a large group of people fighting
Emergency services were called about 6:30pm to reports a large group of people fighting Photo credit: Image - Getty Images

Ōtorohanga District Mayor Max Baxter has confirmed the "shocking" attack that left a 34-year-old man dead involved members of a gang.

A homicide investigation has been launched after a man died on Maniapoto St, Ōtorohanga in Waikato on Saturday evening following an altercation between two groups following an earlier "road rage" incident, according to police.

"I believe the offenders were patch members of a gang but it wasn't a gang-related incident as such," Baxter tells Newshub.

Police say investigations are continuing on Sunday but don't believe "the groups were known to each other prior to yesterday’s events".

One of the groups arrived on Maniapoto St at about 6:30pm in two vehicles, with both cars now located by police. 

A section of Maniapoto Street/SH3 remains cordoned while the scene examination continues.

"This was an incredibly violent attack in a very public place, and we want to let our Ōtorohanga community know we're clearly focused on identifying and locating those involved," says Waikato Police Detective Inspector Graham Pitkethley. 

A post mortem is expected to take place on Monday.

"We expect to be in a position to release details about the victim's identity after this and we're working closely with his family and ensuring they are supported," Pitkethley says.

Eyewitnesses say two patched gang members attacked the man with an axe outside the Mobil service station, according to the NZ Herald.

"I was just driving down and there was a scuffle. It's a pretty quiet town too which really sucks but there was a scuffle so I kind of slowed down," the witness said. "It was these two gang members and they were attacking this [man] with an axe. They hit him on the head and it just dropped him cold and they just took off."

The witness told the Herald he helped the badly injured man, who he said didn't look like a gang member. 

Baxter says he found out about the attack late on Saturday evening, adding it's totally out of character for the town for a "shocking" incident like this to happen.

"It's absolutely shocking," he says. "As we all know Ōtorohanga is a beautiful small rural town in New Zealand and what is so endearing about the town is the people are so friendly, welcoming. "So something as absolutely horrendous as this happening on Maniapoto St is totally unexpected and totally uncalled for."

Baxter says the alleged assailants weren't from Ōtorohanga and is assuring his residents they have left the rural town. 

"This is a real shock and we are talking about out-of-towners who have confronted a local person and have obviously done what they have done and left town," Baxter tells Newshub. "So it's not something that happens in town at all, it's a peaceful place and is totally out of character.  

"The assailants have left town, the vehicle I believe has been located but there are no other details at this stage that we can share with anyone."

Baxter is asking his community to look out for each other and hopes no one does anything out of character.

"Certainly the town isn't under any sort of threat whatsoever, I just hope that we can tackle what has happened and that no one does anything silly or turn as a consequence."

Police want to talk to anyone who has not yet come forward with information. People can provide information by calling 105 and quoting file number 211002/2797.

Information can also be provided anonymously via Crime Stoppers on 0800 555 111.