Whānau 'heartbroken' over loss of kuia and mistreatment from system

The whānau of an 81-year-old kuia who was tragically killed in a car accident three years ago is still seeking justice for their loved one.

At approximately 5.20am on November 26, 2020, Fiona Howden-Larsen was making her way to her daughter's coffee truck to be her first customer of the day but she was struck by a speeding driver and died at the scene.

The driver pleaded not guilty to reckless driving, and after multiple hearing delays was eventually convicted and sentenced to less than 100 hours of community service and was disqualified from driving for 12 months.

Granddaughter Tyra Gabb (Whakatōhea, Ngāti Hine, Ngāti Koro, Ngāti Kahu ki Whangaroa) says she feels her whānau was let down by the system throughout the case.

“There were just a lot of questions that went unanswered and pushed under the rug, and we were just told it is what it is and to just move on now,” she says.

A loving kuia

Fiona Pikihuia Howden-Larsen was born and raised in Murupara with her 18 siblings. She was schooled at Queen Victoria, travelled to Europe and Scandinavia in her youth, and then came home in her later years to help raise her mokopuna.

“She was intertwined into every part of our lives,” Gabb says.

“She was really active. All her life she was doing walking marathons. She stayed walking right until her very last days, she'd walk everywhere and see everything.”

Fiona Pikihuia Howden-Larsen. Photo / Supplied

Safe Speeds Programme

Auckland Transport has a list of more than 1,500 roads that are in review as part of its Safe Speeds Programme.

The speed limit in the area at the time of the incident was 50kmph, which Waka Kotahi says was in place because of a slippery surface. The investigation estimated the driver's speed was between 60-80kmph, calculated on the impact.

Two weeks after the incident, the limit returned back to 70kmph after the slippery surface was addressed.

“The road is dead straight for miles," Gabb says.

"We were just given no conclusion as to what the hell he was doing to hit her. He drove that road every day, same time every day. She walked that road same time every day. He would have seen her days before, weeks before."

Te Ao Māori News asked Waka Kotahi why Mill Rd is not on the safe speeds programme list despite this relatively recent accident.

A spokesman responded: "State Highway 16, including Helensville (and Mill Road) and many other townships in north Auckland and Northland underwent public consultation as part of a speed review between May/June 2022. Waka Kotahi is now reviewing the received submissions and will provide a summary of feedback and a decision on any permanent speed limit changes within the coming months."

Petition to lower speed limit

Howden-Larsen's family have been fighting to get the speed limit on Mill Road permanently lowered to 50km/h.

Whānau members petitioned the police, the council, the government, and Waka Kotahi, and their petition got 2,557 signatures. However, they say they were told that not enough people have died on the road to justify lowering the speed limit.

Despite their efforts, the family feels let down by the lack of action on the part of the authorities.

“We're heartbroken enough as it is having to lose her in such a horrific way but the stuff we've had to deal with is just absolutely heartbreaking,” Gabb says.