A police officer who was once shot at during a high speed chase has died at a school camp.
East Otago High School is mourning Senior Constable Stefan Witehira, a Palmerston police officer and the school's board of trustees chairman, who died at a school camp in the Queenstown Lakes district on Wednesday.
In a statement, East Otago High School principal Lennox Sharp said Mr Witehira was well-known in the community and news of his death had come as a shock.
"It is with deep regret we advise that Mr Stefan Witehira, the chairperson of the board of trustees, passed away during our year 10 camp in Glenorchy yesterday.
"Stefan was a well-known and highly respected member of both our school and the East Otago community. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Witehira whanau during this most difficult time."
Witehira was also based in Dargaville during his police career.
Witehira and a colleague, Senior Constable Darrin Low, were shot at after laying road spikes during a police pursuit in February 2009.
Witehira and Low received Silver Merit Awards for exhibiting "professionalism and courage" during the incident.
The Palmerston North couple who shot at the pair were jailed.
Christopher Shaw, then 26, who pleaded guilty to six counts of using a firearm against police in addition to a string of burglaries, thefts and mistreating two young children, was sentenced to nine years and 11 months in prison. Stacey Snelleksz, then 20, admitted a similar string of dishonesty offences and mistreating two children, and was sentenced to 22 months in prison and ordered to pay $15,000 in reparation.
Justice Fogarty, who presided over the High Court trial, said said the two police officers had been put at risk and it was extremely serious offending.
He said the New Zealand police were largely unarmed and should not be put at risk by such offences.
Police witnesses described a high speed police chase involving police cars, a helicopter and the armed offenders squad (AOS), from Oamaru to Palmerston, in Otago, in which speeds up to 150km/h were reached.
The Land Rover carrying the defendants and two small children had swerved to avoid road spikes when a firearm was aimed out of the passenger window and fired in the direction of the two constables, who had set up the road block.
The stolen vehicle later narrowly missed a man on a ride-on lawn mower before going out of control and crashing into some trees.
The defendants were arrested following a cross country chase on foot during which police said Shaw again threatened them with a firearm several times, fired at the AOS helicopter and used a child as a human shield.
Speaking after the sentencing, Detective Sergeant Mike Ryan, who headed the police operation, said police officers were always aware that protecting the public could involve personal danger.
"This case was more dangerous than most," he said.
Ryan said he was proud of the professional manner in which his staff had handled what could have been a tragic incident.
Additional reporting: ODT