One minute Queenstowner Fraser Nehoff was chatting with Mark Smith in a bar.
Soon after, Nehoff was unwittingly driving by his mate’s dead body.
Smith, 47, died in an altercation at a Camp Street cab rank about 11.30pm last Thursday, soon after he’d been telling Nehoff about his great day on Lake Wakatipu.
“He’d been out on a work do on the lake with Queenstown Roofing … an end-of-year trip on the Princess [launch],” Nehoff recalls.
“I’d been out for dinner and he came over and sat with us [in the bar] at about 10.30pm. We were just talking for half an hour or so.
“He didn’t even have a drink in his hand. We were sitting there talking. He was happy but he wasn’t intoxicated. Then he said he was off home.
“Shortly after, I was on my way home in a taxi and I saw him on the footpath but I didn’t realise it was him.
“I’m completely gutted about what’s happened to him.”
Police are treating Smith’s death as a homicide.
Otago rural police chief Mike Cook says they’re still investigating what may have led to “some form of altercation”.
Preliminary post mortem results are with police but haven’t been publicly released.
A 34-year-old white collar Queenstown man with interim name suppression appears in Invercargill District Court tomorrow charged with assault.
A further charge is expected to be laid.
Nehoff, a building contractor, knew Smith for 15 years. Smith was a specialist roofer for Laser Plumbing.
“He was one of the top roofers in his trade. He’ll be sorely missed. He was a good man all round,” Nehoff says.
“He always had a bit of cheek to give you. We’ll miss his sense of humour.”
Nehoff says Smith wasn’t aggressive: “I’ve never known him to be in any fighting situations.
“People die falling off mountains and things like that, which is tragic, but they’re up there taking a risk.
But just to go out and have a night out and get killed at a taxi stand is bad, isn’t it?
“It makes you realise how precious life is.
He was one of life’s good guys.”
About 500 people attended Smith’s funeral in Frankton on Tuesday.
Married to Fiona, who works at Queenstown Primary, and father of Callum, 20, and Lincoln, 10, Smith was a passionate and proud family man, a “DIY expert”, and a talented classic car restorer, pastor Dean Payn says.
“If we were to shoot straight and be honest, in the way that Mark would do, we would understand that this incident was completely unnecessary and is a reflection of how we as humans can stuff things up,” Payn says.
Laser Plumbing boss Wayne Thompson says Smith was an organised, dedicated worker who had a “hands-on approach from start to finish”.