Man killed in Tarawera crash described as 'humble', devoted to family

The family of the Samoan man killed in a horror crash near Taupo on Monday have described him as a humble and devoted father and husband.

The crash happened on a dangerous stretch of road on State Highway 5, where speed limits are currently under review.

Silila Vaa, Tino to his family, is remembered as a "blessing" by his aunt Lofa Tuimaualuga.

"He is such a humble, quiet guy, but he's funny. He loves his wife and also his kids," she said.

Vaa lived in Samoa with his wife and four children.

Tuimaualuga said he'd visited Hastings for the past seven years for seasonal horticulture work so he could send money back home to Samoa.

"Tino [would] never go without anything for the wife and the kids."

Vaa was driving to Taupo for a holiday with his colleagues. Three vans were in a convoy and his was the last. It was turning into a cafe when it was hit by a truck from behind.

The truck driver swerved and swiped the van rather than T-boning it, but then it hurtled down a bank.

The truck driver walked away uninjured.

One of the 10 people from Vaa's van remains in a critical condition in hospital. 

Silila Vaa.
Silila Vaa. Photo credit: Newshub.

Tuimaualuga heard about the crash and became worried. She then got a phone call from Vaa's father-in-law.

"He was crying on the phone and that's when I realised it was Tino. It was Tino that left, and yeah, just loss of words, just lost," she said.

The wreckage of the truck was hauled away in parts on Tuesday. 

Police have described that stretch of State Highway 5 near Tarawera as "lethal". Eight people have died on the road since late last year. NZTA said it is looking at reducing the road's speed limit. 

Vaa's body will be flown to Samoa for a "proper Samoan funeral", Tuimaualuga said, and so he can be buried there.

However, his family in New Zealand and Australia won't be able to attend the funeral because of COVID-19.

"I pray for God's comfort on all of us and hope to see Tino very soon," Tuimaualuga said.

They hope to have him back in Samoa by the end of the month.