Susan Cutler named as St John officer and ‘invaluable’ volunteer firefighter killed in Waikato crash


Two people have died following a collision between a car and an ambulance in Cambridge.
Video / Caitlan Johnston

An ambulance officer and firefighter described as “invaluable” to her small volunteer brigade was the second victim of a horror head-on smash in Waikato last week.

Susan Cutler, a St John veteran of more than half a century’s service, was driving the ambulance that collided with a car in the early hours of September 14 on State Highway 1 near Cambridge. Her name was released by police on Monday afternoon.

The driver of the Audi who died at the scene was Deon Hadley, an Auckland man who just over two years earlier had lost his mother when she was brutally killed by a mentally unwell man.

Cutler had served St John for 55 years and at the time of her death was a patient transfer officer.

She was airlifted to Waikato Hospital with critical injuries and died the following day.

Cutler, who lived in Rotorua, was also a senior member of the Lake Tarawera Rural Volunteer Fire Brigade, which shared a tribute to her on Facebook. The Herald sought and was granted permission to republish the tribute from the brigade’s chief.

“Susan Cutler was an absolutely invaluable member of our brigade and we are all in shock,” the brigade said.

“Susan was a senior member, having been with us from about the time Lake Tarawera started.

“Susan was always readily available and willing to do whatever was needed to keep our station operational, engines filled, clean and tidy.

The brigade planned to have a memorial for Susan at a later date, it said.

“Susan will be missed by our brigade, and by our larger community.”

Cutler was appointed a Member of St John in 2004.

Her family have not spoken publicly.

Hato Hone St John Ambulance operations deputy chief executive Dan Ohs said in a statement the organisation was devastated by the loss of one of its own.

“They are one of a very small number of ambulance officers to lose their life in the line of duty in New Zealand in the last 80 years,” Ohs said.

Cutler was driving the ambulance from Hamilton to Rotorua when the crash happened.

“The officer was airlifted to Waikato Hospital and, despite a brave fight, succumbed to their injuries and died with family by their side,” Ohs said.

A registered nurse travelling as the attendant in the ambulance was taken to the same hospital and was reportedly in a stable condition.

The crash between a car and an ambulance on State Highway 1 near Cambridge killed the Audi driver at the scene. A St John Ambulance officer died later in hospital. Photo / Caitlan Johnston
The crash between a car and an ambulance on State Highway 1 near Cambridge killed the Audi driver at the scene. A St John Ambulance officer died later in hospital. Photo / Caitlan Johnston

There was no one else in the ambulance.

Ohs said she was a “well-respected and long-serving member of the Hato Hone St John whānau”.

The crash happened near the Hickey Rd intersection between Cambridge and Karapiro.

Photos from the scene show the crash happened at or near a bend on the road on double yellow lines.

Both vehicles were left mangled wrecks and debris was strewn across the road.

Chief executive of the Waikato Chamber of Commerce Don Good called the stretch of road between Hickey Rd, where the crash happened, and Piarere a “death trap” that had claimed “an unacceptable number of lives”.

“Road users, local residents and Chambers have appealed for urgent action for the right safety measures to be put in place and have been ignored.”

Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency speed and infrastructure programme director Dave Van Standen said safety improvements were well underway for the road between Cambridge and Piarere.

“Our thoughts are with everyone affected by the tragedy. Any death or serious injury on a New Zealand road is unacceptable.”

Several kilometres of median barriers had already been installed, including 2.4km from south of Ferguson Gully which had been hit 40 times since it was installed in 2020.

Police inquiries into the crash continue.

Deon’s sister Ariana Hadley earlier told the Herald she was feeling “numb”.

Ariana Hadley and Deon Hadley with a photograph of their mother Tania Hadley outside the Auckland High Court in June 2021. Deon was killed in a head-on collision with an ambulance in the Waikato last week. Photo / Craig Kapitan
Ariana Hadley and Deon Hadley with a photograph of their mother Tania Hadley outside the Auckland High Court in June 2021. Deon was killed in a head-on collision with an ambulance in the Waikato last week. Photo / Craig Kapitan

Her brother has been remembered as a kind and generous man who was still finding his way after the shock loss of his mother.

“He was a very kind-hearted person,” she said.

“He did love a lot of people and care for them.”

In May 2020, Deon’s mother died after her tenant doused her in petrol, set her on fire then slashed her throat at her home in Mt Roskill, Auckland.

Her tenant, ex-convict Damien Charles Chandler, was charged with murder but found not guilty by reason of insanity the following year.

He was ordered to be held at a secure mental health facility for at least 10 years.

Ariana is remaining stoic amid the second shock loss of a close family member in a little over two years as she makes arrangements for her brother’s farewell.

Ariana said her brother, 33, had been struggling after his mother’s death and was unemployed.

He was living at his late mother’s house in Mt Roskill but had travelled south on a journey of self-discovery, Ariana understood.

“I think he was just going to find himself,” she said.

Deon served as a family spokesman after his mother’s death.

Shortly after Chandler was charged, he spoke of how he was kept in the dark about how she died as he waited anxiously for news about her at a police cordon.

“Everyone else knew before I did,” he said outside the High Court.

Outside the same court the following year, Deon said he and his sister were pleased with the outcome and hoped Chandler would never be released.

He described his mother as a hard-working woman who “dedicated her life to her career and her children”.

“She was generous with love, and she was taken way too soon,” he said.



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