A motorcyclist who spent two days in a coma after a “horrific” crash on State Highway 5 is fuming after Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency rejected her claim the condition of the road was responsible.
The agency says the road is “fit-for-purpose” and it has found “no evidence” the road condition was a major contributor to her crash.
After being thrown from her bike on to the “cheese-cutters”, Pāpāmoa mother-of-four Hope Pearce counts herself “lucky” to be alive to talk about the Labour Day accident near Rotorua.
The 36-year-old said she had been spending an “awesome day” cruising around the Bay of Plenty on her Harley-Davidson 48 Sportster with two friends.
From Tauranga, they followed the coastline to Matatā then wound around the lakes to Rotorua, where they stopped for lunch before heading north on State Highway 5.
The crash happened on the outskirts of the city about 2.45pm, between Dansey Rd and Takurenga Marae Rd, but Pearce said she could not remember any of it.
“I have been told by witnesses [that] due to the condition of the road, it made my bike tank-slap [wobble severely] for over 100 metres,” Pearce said.
“[As] I tried to regain control, I hit another pothole and the bike high-sided me into the air.
“I came straight down on to the cheese-cutters [wire median barrier] in the middle of the road.”
She woke from an induced coma in Rotorua Hospital’s intensive care unit two days later, after two surgeries.
The first removed her ruptured spleen and stopped internal bleeding; the second repaired her left femur, which had broken into three parts. She now has a metal rod in that leg permanently.
Other injuries included lacerations to both kidneys and her liver, fractures to her sternum, ribs and spine, a collapsed lung, engine burns on her right leg and extensive bruising.
She said she spent about a week in Rotorua then Tauranga hospitals before discharging herself to recover at home.
Papamoa mother Hope Pearce in Rotorua Hospital's intensive care unit after a motorbike crash on State Highway 5 near Rotorua on October 23.
She said strangers who stopped after the crash, and the paramedics, helped save her life and she hoped to find and thank them.
She faced a long road to recovery, and said her family and the friends who saw the crash had also been “significantly impacted”.
Her broken leg could take a year to heal, her immune system was compromised and she would need antibiotics daily for at least two years, she said. She may have to leave her rented home, unable to manage the stairs on crutches.
“I’ve lost my bike, … my phone and all the gear I was wearing was cut off me. I’ve lost my ability to work for the foreseeable future and my independence. I even need … someone to go with me to the bloody toilet in case I slip over.”
Hope Pearce believes road conditions were responsible for the motorcycle crash. Photo / Alex Cairns
Pearce said she had been riding motorbikes for three years, was fully licensed and her bike was warranted. She said she was not speeding, according to witnesses, there were no other vehicles or people involved, and she had no alcohol in her blood.
In her view: “The only thing left is the road conditions.”
Pearce said her family had described to her the “horrendous” state of this stretch of road.
“I believe the condition of the road – which had potholes, built-up patches of tar seal and unevenness in general – were significant factors in causing the accident and my horrific injuries.
“These are injuries you don’t normally wake up from; no one expected me to survive,“ she said.
Emergency services at the scene of the motorcycle crash on State Highway 5 near Rotorua on October 23.
Pearce said she wrote to Waka Kotahi on November 4 asking it to accept the road condition was a “significant factor” in her accident and explaining she “would be taking this matter to court”.
The agency replied this week, rejecting her claim.
She said she felt “fobbed off”.
Pearce said she now had “all the time in the world” to keep fighting, for herself and other motorists using that road.
Witness: ‘Her screams … I will never forget’
Friend Russ Kenny, who was riding ahead of Pearce, said he saw some of the accident in his rear-vision mirror.
“I saw Hope flying up in the air before landing on the top of the wire ropes … her motorbike was skidding on the ground before it slid under the cheese-graters, taking out three [uprights in the wire barrier] – nasty things.
”It all happened so fast, you don’t believe what your eyes are seeing at first, but when I looked back to check on Hope, I thought ‘oh s***’.”
He found Pearce lying on the road with wires across her and two young women trying to comfort her.
Pearce tried to get up but was disorientated and “going into shock”.
“When I held her hand, it was cold and clammy, and that freaked me out a little bit. She kept saying she couldn’t breathe. Hope was in a lot of pain … I genuinely didn’t expect her to be alive, she’s a bloody lucky girl.”
Hope Pearce's femur was broken into three pieces in the Labour Day crash.
He said two young men who might have been with the two women helped him and the other rider with traffic management, and a male doctor – possibly in a grey station wagon – also stopped to help.
The “absolutely brilliant” paramedics worked on Pearce for about 40 minutes on the road and in the ambulance.
“Ambulance staff were trying to straighten Hope’s leg so they put her on to the stretcher. Her screams, far out, I will never forget that sound as long as I live.”
He and a social club he belonged to had set up a Givealitte page for Pearce, to help support her family with bills, her recovery and potentially fixing her bike.
Hope Pearce’s Harley-Davidson 48 Sportster motorbike after her crash. Photo / Alex Cairns
“Hope wants to get back on it, she’s one of the toughest girls I’ve met. She’s an absolute warrior girl.”
Family friend Shaun Stewart said he viewed what happened to Pearce as “totally unacceptable” and the state of the road was, in his view, “unacceptable”.
“I know numerous other people who have had punctured tyres and buckled rims on the same stretch of road.”
Waka Kotahi responds
Acting regional manager of maintenance and operations for Waka Kotahi, Bay of Plenty, Roger Brady said in a written response to Bay of Plenty Times questions that the agency took state highway maintenance “very seriously”.
He was saddened to hear of Pearce’s crash and injuries, and appreciated the serious impact on her life, he said.
The agency’s maintenance contractor had reviewed the section of SH5 to check for potential issues.
“Waka Kotahi has found no evidence to suggest that the road condition was a major contributor to the crash, and the NZ Police investigation will determine the likely contributing factors.”
In any crash, the range of potential contributors could also include vehicle condition, driver behaviour and speed.
He said SH5 was routinely inspected and any rutting, potholes or other defects repaired. It had one pothole complaint in the approximate area this year, in June, and it was fixed.
“There were no defects requiring repairs noted for any time around the date of this crash.”
The section of road was set to be resealed this summer and areas were marked out for pre-seal repairs.
“However, no reactive maintenance was required as a result of the crash and Waka Kotahi considers the road is still fit for purpose.”
A police spokesperson said the investigation into the crash continued and the officer in charge could not comment on what might have caused it.
Sandra Conchie is a senior journalist at the Bay of Plenty Times and Rotorua Daily Post who has been a journalist for 24 years. She mainly covers police, court and other justice stories, as well as general news. She has been a Canon Media Awards regional/community reporter of the year.
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