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'Loving father': Tributes for man who died after running into sea while fleeing police

Author
Bay of Plenty Times,
Publish Date
Tue, 16 Apr 2024, 9:12pm
John Rawiri Piripi Pitihira, 37, died after running into the sea at Mt Maunganui on Monday. Photo / Alex Cairns
John Rawiri Piripi Pitihira, 37, died after running into the sea at Mt Maunganui on Monday. Photo / Alex Cairns

'Loving father': Tributes for man who died after running into sea while fleeing police

Author
Bay of Plenty Times,
Publish Date
Tue, 16 Apr 2024, 9:12pm

Tributes are being posted tonight for a man who died after running into the sea while fleeing police in Mount Maunganui yesterday.

He was 37-year-old John Rawiri Piripi Pitihira.

“On behalf of our whanau I sadly announce the passing of our Johnny Boy,” a tribute posted to Facebook yesterday read.

The post said Pitihira was a “loving father” to two kids.

John Rawiri Piripi Pitihira, 37, died after running into the sea at Mt Maunganui on Monday.
John Rawiri Piripi Pitihira, 37, died after running into the sea at Mt Maunganui on Monday.

“Tragically our brother, son, uncle, nephew, cousin and bro was taken from us.”

In a statement tonight, a police spokesperson said the Mount Maunganui man’s death has been referred to the coroner after a post-mortem.

The Independent Police Conduct Authority had been notified about the incident, and police were supporting Pitihira’s family.

In prior statements, police said the man died after running “into the sea in an effort to avoid arrest”.

Pitihira ran from officers investigating a report of a burglary at a Surf Rd building site in Ōmanu about 3.40am, police said.

Police investigating a sudden death at Mount Maunganui yesterday. Photo / Alex Cairns
Police investigating a sudden death at Mount Maunganui yesterday. Photo / Alex Cairns

A police officer chasing him did not follow him into the water for safety reasons, and police lost sight of him.

Police searched the shoreline and a body was found a short distance up Ōmanu Beach about 5am.

‘Terrifying experience’

Surf Rd homeowner Matthew Semple told the Bay of Plenty Times he was woken around 3.50am by a woman yelling from the direction of the street.

From a window, he saw an SUV in front of the Monohomes building site with police cars in front and behind it.

He said he watched a police officer direct a handcuffed man into a police vehicle and went back to bed.

A police officer chasing Pitihira did not follow him into the water for safety reasons, and police lost sight of him. Photo / Alex Cairns
A police officer chasing Pitihira did not follow him into the water for safety reasons, and police lost sight of him. Photo / Alex Cairns

About 6.20am when he looked out towards the beach, he saw what appeared to be a body underneath a white sheet, he said.

He estimated this was about 150m to 200m north of the Ōmanu Surf Club, which is at the end of Surf Rd.

Semple said he saw a police photographer taking images of footprints on the beach heading towards the surf, as several other police worked at the scene and around the building site.

“There was lots of police attention focused on the beach.”

Police responding to a report of an alleged burglary at a Monohomes building site in Surf Rd, Mount Maunganui. Photo / Matthew Semple
Police responding to a report of an alleged burglary at a Monohomes building site in Surf Rd, Mount Maunganui. Photo / Matthew Semple

Semple said he saw the deceased’s body being taken away by a funeral director.

He said he went for a swim, returning between 7am and 7.30am.

The surf conditions were challenging with a “very strong” rip current running right to left along the beach towards Mount Maunganui, and going out to sea, Semple said.

“I felt it pulling at me strongly in that direction during my swim.”

Police searched the shoreline and a body was found a short distance up Ōmanu Beach about 5am. Photo / Alex Cairns
Police searched the shoreline and a body was found a short distance up Ōmanu Beach about 5am. Photo / Alex Cairns

He believed the man could have been caught in the rip and pulled under.

“It must have been a terrifying experience for this man to be caught in the rip alone in the dark and pulled under the water.

“It’s a tragedy for this person and for their family and friends.”

This article was originally posted on the NZ Herald here.

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