Family slam lack of Ōtara road improvement as 'ridiculous' 4 years after man's death

Rebecca Moore
Source: 1News

William (Bill) Wiki Teoi is being remembered as a "community man to the max", lovingly known in the Ōtara community as "uncle".

William (Bill) Wiki Teoi.

He was a JP, volunteer, and served on the Ōtara-Papatoetoe Local Board.

But on March 11, 2018, on his way to a birthday party for one of his many great-grandchildren - taking a route he took most days - the 84-year-old wheelchair user was hit by a car. He died the next day of heart failure at Auckland's Middlemore Hospital.

Four years on, there's still been no improvements made to the road where Wiki Teoi was hit, despite the coroner finding the road was the primary factor contributing to his death.

Coroner Alexander Ho said Wiki Teoi's death "was from natural causes, albeit at least partially brought on or exacerbated by the collision", and preventable.

But Auckland Transport's (AT) investigation found "the road was not the primary contributing factor to the crash".

Instead the agency suggested two general recommendations - to investigate road user connectivity improvements, observing that there were no pram crossings or crossing facilities on the slip lane, and to renew the road markings in the area.

No improvements made

The improvements were expected to be completed by January 2019. So far, none have been made.

The coroner says even in AT's best-case scenario, there will be no safe, signalled, mobility-accessible crossing from Preston Rd across East Tamaki Rd until late 2022 at the earliest - more than four years after Wiki Teoi's death.

"This safety upgrade project is currently in the advanced development stage and we are expecting to update the community on progress in coming months," Auckland Transport spokeswoman Natalie Polley told 1News.

"This death was an absolute tragedy and a heartbreaking reminder of the importance of ensuring our roads and crossings are all safe for our communities."

William (Bill) Wiki Teoi at Polyfest 2017.

But granddaughter Tawaka Brown isn't accepting any excuses for the years-long delay.

"It's been four years, that's a ridiculous amount of time," she told 1News.

"It's just like, 'Are you for real?' Like, Auckland Transport has just done nothing and we have to drive past that almost every day. They haven't put anything temporary in, just nothing."

Brown is both mad and disappointed, but also scared, seeing others try to make their way across the same piece of road - including a young boy who is also a wheelchair user.

"It's like off-roading for wheelchairs. I bet you anything, if that accident and that crossing had happened in Botany Downs that [it would already be] fixed. Here in East Tamaki in Ōtara, it's not going to get done until they're good and ready.

"There's not enough people kicking up a stink about it so they're just going to leave it."

CCS Disability Action access advisor Vivian Naylor mirrored those views.

"I am appalled at [AT's] lack of action at this intersection over the last four years. There was a fatality.

"I'm cynical enough to suggest this would not have been the case should it have happened in a wealthy suburb. Lack of action would not have been tolerated."

Disabled people 'an afterthought'

Her comments come after Disability Rights Commissioner Paula Tesoriero told 1News on Wednesday "disabled people are an afterthought".

"People in wheelchairs or using mobility devices are not uncommon, and as our population ages, we will see more people needing mobility aids to go about their daily business," Tesoriero says.

"Councils, and agencies that look after public infrastructure like roads and footpaths, must start prioritising accessibility in the design of public spaces, and retrofit those that are not accessible."

Brown said she got the chance to talk with Wiki Teoi at the hospital before he died. He explained how he was signalled by another motorist that it was safe to cross before the car pulled out.

"It was just an accident, like it wasn't anything malicious, but… could've been avoided if there was a proper crossing there."

Labour MP Aupito Tofae Su'a William Sio with William (Bill) Wiki Teoi on Anzac Day.

Dr Peng from Counties Manukau DHB noted in a report to the coroner it was possible Wiki Teoi's rib fractures had caused significant pain, triggering a fast heart rate which may have initially contributed to his heart failure.

He was described as an elderly man with severe underlying medical conditions. But Brown remembers him as the man who brought her up.

She says he adored his family, including seven children and more grandchildren and great grandchildren than she could count.

Brown lived with him and became his caregiver when he started using an electric mobility chair in 2009, following an operation. But his new wheels never slowed him down - he had a great sense of humour, often making light of being a wheelchair user when people felt awkward.

She also says he was never in the same place for long - he was always keen to round up the grandchildren and great grandchildren for a trip to the beach or to get ice cream in Pōkeno.

"A lot of his later years revolved around picking up kids, and just to see them smile it lit up his life.

"We just got on with life, there was nothing to fix the situation [of being in a wheelchair] so we just adapted to having it around."

She said the younger children "loved it" though, enjoying rides on it.

Brown also said Wiki Teoi had "a little dog", Optimus, who was a cross between a dachshund and corgi. She says they were "joined at the hip" but Optimus died just a week before Wiki Teoi.

"He would be seen with that dog everywhere," she said, adding that he would "bark like nobody's business" and only listened to Wiki Teoi.

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