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Viliami Tonga admits road rage assault on way to Auckland brawl where Charles Pongi died

By Craig Kapitan, nzherald.co.nz

A second defendant has admitted terrorising a stranger in a road rage attack in South Auckland after he and fellow gang members took exception to a motorist accidentally joining their convoy.

Viliami Tonga, who up until now had name suppression, pleaded guilty this morning to common assault – one week after co-defendant Paula Lavemai was sentenced in the same courtroom to one month’s home detention for the same August 2023 incident.

Although common assault is usually dealt with in the district court, both men appeared in the High Court at Auckland as four other co-defendants have been charged with a murder alleged to have happened shortly after the road rage attack.

Authorities say Tonga and Lavemai were heading to a Pt England reserve in East Auckland to aid Rebels members in a planned confrontation with members of rival motorcycle gang the Head Hunters.

Tonga and Lavemai are both members of the FITUS street gang which aligns with the Crips and the Rebels.

Patched Head Hunter Charles Pongi was shot during the melee inside the reserve and died later that day after driving himself to hospital.

All co-defendants charged with murder have pleaded not guilty and await trial next year.

The road rage incident was at an Ōtāhuhu intersection shortly after Tonga, Lavemai and others left the Rebels gang pad, according to court documents.

“The group accosted [the driver], demanding he get out of his vehicle, kicking door panels and [another co-defendant] smashed the front passenger window with an elbow strike,” according to the police summary of the incident agreed to by Lavemai.

As that was occurring, another vehicle in the convoy pulled up and joined in, occupants kicking the vehicle.

“Get out of the car or I will shoot you”, one person is alleged to have said while brandishing a pistol.

The gang members jumped back into their vehicles as the light changed and drove off, authorities allege.

The attacked driver followed the convoy, trying to memorise number plates, until a passenger of another vehicle in the convoy produced a long, single-barrelled firearm, court documents state.

“F*** off,” the person is alleged to have said as he showed the weapon. The motorist decided to follow the advice, driving home before calling police.

Police arrested Lavemai after finding his fingerprint on the victim’s car. CCTV in the area also filmed the attack, and Tonga was identified by his “distinctive clothing”, authorities alleged.

Although the motorist did not suffer any physical injuries, the psychological effect of the incident has been long-lasting, Justice Graham Lang noted during Lavemai’s sentencing hearing, suggesting his actions were at “the upper end” of what could be considered common assault.

Justice Lang set a sentencing date for next month.

The judge did not immediately enter a conviction, at the defendant’s request, after Tonga’s lawyer indicated they will be seeking a discharge without conviction.

Common assault carries a maximum sentence on one year in prison.

Craig Kapitan is an Auckland-based journalist covering courts and justice. He joined the Herald in 2021 and has reported on courts since 2002 in three newsrooms in the US and New Zealand.