‘He just fell to the ground’: Napier nightclub owner stunned as worker shot outside bar

A Napier nightclub owner who stood next to a staff member as he was shot in a drive-by shooting in West Quay has called for an end to “gang warfare” in his city.

The Thirsty Whale Bar owner Chris Sullivan said he and three other staff members were stood next to their co-worker when he was shot outside the nightclub at 12.33am on Sunday.

More than 20 police officers – many armed – swarmed the area and found two people shot by what witnesses said was between three and five shots from a car.

It came minutes after a fistfight on the West Quay footpath and as roughly 20 others lined up to get inside the packed bar.

Sullivan said he heard the shots, then watched as his worker “just fell to the ground”.

“I’m still in shock after seeing an innocent friend and staff member just doing his job, working to support his family, shot outside the bar from the public wharf across the road because of gang warfare,” he said.

Police said five men in a vehicle drove up to the bar and fired shots at a group of people, who appeared to be known to them, standing outside.

“One of the men standing outside the bar sustained an injury to their hand and a bar staff member sustained an injury to their groin,” a police spokeswoman said.

A man in his 20s and a man in his 30s were taken to Hawke’s Bay Hospital with moderate to serious injuries. One remained in hospital on Sunday afternoon.

Clubs in the area were shut for the night as a result.

Sullivan said while the police responded quickly, gang tensions in the city had reached boiling point and begun to draw in innocent parties, with immediate action needed.

“The government needs to step up and protect the innocent public and not have the illusion this gang problem will just go away by itself or more innocent people will be shot or killed,” he said.

“Luckily, it happened on the street, so most patrons knew nothing until we closed.”

Sullivan said the injured staff member had three hours of surgeries but was doing well.

Hawke’s Bay district commander superintendent Jeanette Park said the incident is believed to have stemmed from an earlier altercation between rival gangs.

In response, police had increased presence and authorised temporary carriage of firearms for staff across Hawke’s Bay – a decision which is reviewed daily, she said.

Park said incidents like these are concerning for communities.

“Police acknowledge there have been a number of reported incidents involving the discharge of firearms across various locations in Hawke’s Bay, in particular over recent weeks,” she said.

“Over recent weeks a number of search warrants have been executed across Eastern District focussing on offending involving the use of firearms with a number of arrests made and firearms and ammunition recovered.”

The incident will be the focus of an extensive on-going police investigation by the Criminal Investigation Branch.

Scene examination and review of significant CCTV footage is the current focus for the investigation team, according to Park.

“The unlawful discharge of firearms is never acceptable let alone in a public place risking the lives of hospitality workers and members of the public,” she added.

Revellers spilled into the streets in the chaotic aftermath of the shooting, many in shock at what they’d witnessed.

Hana, from the Czech Republic, said she was waiting near the head of a 20-strong queue to get into the nightclub when a large fistfight between about a dozen people broke out on the footpath nearby.

A small group of people peeled off from the fight and jumped into a parked car on West Quay, she said.

“Suddenly they were shooting,” she said. “I was in shock, like I couldn’t move. I was just trying to hide myself somewhere, but I was in shock and didn’t do anything.

“There was some kind of barrel at the bar entrance, and I hid myself behind it.”

Hana said she witnessed the barrel of a gun appear from the car window, masked by clothing, before watching as between three and five shots were fired.

The two men she saw get shot were bleeding but conscious in the minutes after the incident, she said.

Hana said in the aftermath of the shooting, there was significant fear among those outside.

One of the men involved in the fight ran into her eyeline and she thought to herself: “‘OMG, they will be shooting at him, and if they shoot at him here, I will get shot.”

Hana remained outside after security barricaded in those already inside the club, until the gate was lifted, and she was able to re-join her friends inside.

Cacia Wiggins, who was inside the Thirsty Whale at the time of the shooting, said the roller doors immediately came down before she was eventually evacuated out a back entrance.

“They had blocked off the streets all through Ahuriri and had what looked like 20-plus officers spread out through the streets armed and waiting.

“I kept asking if they had found the shooters but I never got a straight answer.”

Hana, who has been travelling in New Zealand since September 2019, said she couldn’t believe the amount of violence she had witnessed in the country. She has had to visit a police station seven times in the 18 months she has been here.

“I would like to say that New Zealand is considered a safe place but that’s not true.
“Every single city, something happens.”

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