‘Vicious’ Tauranga knife attack left teen needing 300-plus stitches

Jacob Van Lieshout never saw the flip-bladed knife used to stab him in the back and slash him across his face and upper body as he stepped inside a lift.

The attack left Jacob, now 17, needing surgery, more than 300 stitches, including 74 on his face, and facing plastic surgery and re-evaluating his professional basketball aspirations.

Last week, Tomas Sanchez, 19, the teenager responsible for the December 9 attack last year at the Quest Kingsview Apartments building, was jailed for four years.

A police summary of facts, released to the Bay of Plenty Times, revealed Sanchez told the police he was angry at Jacob for “propositioning his girlfriend” during a camping trip and the pair had formerly been in the same friend group.

About noon that day, a teenage woman met up with Jacob and a friend of his at the lift and while talking to them, she was also texting Sanchez.

About 15 minutes later, Sanchez, then 18, walked through the front entrance of the apartment complex – where Jacob and his parents lived – and lay in wait just inside the lobby by the elevators, the summary said.

Jacob, then aged 16, said he had his back turned to his attacker as he and his friend were walking back into the lift after farewelling the young woman.

A short time later, Sanchez attacked him with a sharp flip-bladed knife, slashing Jacob’s face, arms and back “an unknown number of times”, he told police, before leaving on foot.

Jacob, a promising basketball player, was taken to Tauranga Hospital in an ambulance after losing “a considerable amount of blood”.

Sanchez was found later that day with the clothing and footwear he had been wearing at the time. The knife was found buried at an associate’s Pāpāmoa address.

Sanchez, who earlier pleaded guilty to a charge of wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm, wiped away tears as Judge Paul Mabey QC handed him the prison sentence in Tauranga District Court on December 1.

Speaking to the Bay of Plenty Times at his home after the sentencing, Jacob said he initially didn’t realise he had been stabbed.

“I didn’t see him [Tomas] or the knife.

“It just felt like when you hit your knee on something at first then I felt a sharp pain like a needle, but I thought maybe it was a muscle spasm in my shoulder as I had just come back home from basketball trials.”

Sanchez told the police he used to be his victim’s friend, but Jacob said he hardly knew his attacker, having only met him once briefly at a beach eight weeks earlier.

Jacob told the Bay of Plenty Times that this attack came “completely out the blue”.

“If I passed him in the street today, I probably wouldn’t even recognise him.”

Jacob said he believed the attack was over in about a minute.

“I didn’t even know what was going on until I turned around … by that time he’d already sliced up my back and left tricep.

“As I turned around, Tomas started slashing away with the knife at my face and chest.

“I was in total shock. I couldn’t get my head around what was going on.

“I didn’t realise how bad my injuries were. I thought I had just been nicked here and there and didn’t realise blood was pouring out of me.”

According to the police summary, the tip of Jacob’s nose was partially amputated and he was left with a deep laceration at least 10cm long from under his nose to his left ear.

He also had two deep lacerations on the back of his left shoulder and a deep laceration to the back of his left tricep, each was 15cm to 20cm long.

Jacob also had a deep puncture wound on his right shoulder about 2cm long.

Jacob told the Bay of Plenty Times that after the attack he was helped to a seat in the lobby by his friend and waited for his mother Michelle Morgan to arrive.

Morgan said she heard the attack as loud grunts echoed up from the lift to their floor.

She also said the lift was shaking violently, but when the lift doors opened it was full of blood but her son was not inside.

“I jumped in the lift and got to Jacob as fast as I could. There was so much blood and I didn’t know what I thought when I saw him.

“He was sitting there in the foyer literally holding his face together .. .But he didn’t realise how badly injured he was and kept saying to me, ‘I’m okay Mum, I’m okay’.

“I rang for an ambulance and called my husband Andre and told him to get here quick as I think Jacob is dying.”

Jacob’s father Andre Van Lieshout told the Bay of Plenty Times his son was clearly in total shock and his body was shutting down.

“Jacob lost three litres of blood before the first ambulance got here … He was lapsing in and out of consciousness.

“His left tricep was cut to the bone. He cut Jacob up like a wild animal,” he said, expressing his view.

Van Lieshout said the police told him and his wife Jacob’s size and bulk were the only reasons he survived the attack.

“The doctors told us that the slash wounds on his back were just 100th of a millimetre off nicking the main artery.”

Jacob spent at least a week in Tauranga Hospital, initially in the intensive care unit.

He still needs plastic surgery to repair some of the facial damage but he must wait 18 months to two years as his face was still growing, his father said.

Since the attack, Jacob has undergone eight months of twice-weekly physiotherapy sessions to help strengthen his left tricep but he said it would never be the same.

The Year 12 Mount Maunganui College student has also had to learn to write and dribble a basketball with his right hand.

Jacob is a member of the New Zealand Basketball Academy and his long-held dream is to pursue a professional basketball career.

He has nerve damage in his left arm and can’t feel when his arm is hot or cold.

Unfortunately, there was a real chance he had suffered permanent nerve damage in the attack, which could rob him of his chance to pursue this goal, the family said.

Determined to move on from the attack, Jacob has not given up on his dream just yet.

Counselling sessions to help him cope with the trauma of his harrowing ordeal were ongoing, his mother said.

“Jacob is the bravest kid I know. He is just amazing as he has pulled us through this, not the other way round.

“He is determined not to let this beat him, and wanted to get back to school and back to some degree of normality as soon as possible,” Morgan said.

That included Jacob spending hours and hours in the basement during the Covid-19 lockdown retraining himself to dribble a baseball with his right hand, she said.

Morgan said she did not hate Sanchez but she was disappointed in his “lack of humanity”.

“For me, this boy had no right to do this to my baby.

“While he has gone to jail, Jacob has a constant reminder of this horrific attack on his body when he looks in the mirror every day. It’s just sheer luck he’s still here with us today.”

Jacob said he did not feel any animosity towards Sanchez despite missing out on a number of basketball tournaments, including Basketball Pacific’s Koru Tour tournament held in Melbourne in January.

“I think that if it takes him stabbing me to find out what is right and wrong and it helps him to turn his life around, then that’s the price I’m willing to pay.

“He clearly needs help but I don’t think he’ll get that help in the system we have now but I hope he does and it makes him a better man.”

At last week’s sentencing, Judge Mabey said Sanchez’s reaction to perceived wrongdoing against him was “brutal and vicious” premeditated offending in the extreme, and nothing other than a jail sentence could be imposed.

“Mr Sanchez, you could easily now be standing in a High Court being sentenced on a murder or manslaughter charge if your victim had not survived the attack.”

The judge took into account Sanchez’s “youth and immaturity”, which he said may have contributed to his “bizarre” decision to “execute his own sense of summary justice”.

Judge Mabey said he accepted Sanchez was genuinely remorseful and this was out-of-character offending, and also took into account his guilty plea.

Detective Aaron Williams, the officer in charge of the prosecution, said he had been a police officer for 20 years and involved in many serious violence investigations, including homicides “but this was the worst knife attack injuries case I have ever seen where the victim has managed to survive”.

“What makes this case particularly concerning is this attack was all over a perceived social media slight.”

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