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“YOU could tell he was going to die.”
One look at the leg hanging out the vehicle, the incoherent sounds, and the police officer knew the male who had been driving was in his death throes. The unnaturally raised rib cage was another telling sign a life would soon be lost.
And the driver had been drinking.
“He reeked of it,” the officer said, the eventual toxicology report showing a very high blood alcohol concentration reading, confirming the officer’s suspicions.
“Basically, you could smell alcohol and faeces.”
This was the scene confronting the officer at 2am one morning several years ago on a road in the Gladstone region.
“A member of the public had come across the car accident and I followed the ambulance to the crash scene,” he said.
“A young male was trapped in the car, still conscious, not screaming, but making noises.”
His emotions flared as the realisation struck him this horrific accident would have a far-reaching impact.
“It’s not nice to say but I was really mad; I was angry because … first of all, the member of the public who came across him was shattered,” he said.
“Secondly, I was angry this person had made some poor decisions and now I was forced to deal with what was going on.
“I could see down the track I was going to have to knock on Mum and Dad’s door and explain to them what had happened.”
Standing back from the car, the officer watched paramedics work on the driver, but in a short time, the mission had gone from one of rescue to retrieval.
“You could still hear him and then it just stopped,” the officer recalled of the man’s death.
The investigation soon got under way as trained officers arrived at the accident site and the clean-up began.
As another day dawned, the officer found himself on the doorstep of people about to be told their loved one was gone from their lives.
“It was a priority to notify the parents before anyone recognised the car if they went past the scene,” the officer said.
A call from a sergeant before he made the dreaded visit carried sage advice.
“He said, ‘Just bear in mind, this is the worst day of their lives’. That was really good advice because it hit home they’re not going to remember me at all, all they’re going to remember is that a police officer came to their house.”
All the training and preparation couldn’t prepare him for the moment when the tragic news was to be delivered face to face.
“They give us all the guidelines and the correct way you should do it, but when I knocked on the door I was winging it, basically,” he said.
“His mother was already up and straight away she got upset. I asked if her husband was home, she yelled out and he came out.
“They had a daughter and she came out as well.”
The officer, accompanied by a sergeant, explained who he was and told them their son had died in an accident.
“An uncle at the house, he came out and they just sat there, didn’t say anything,” the officer said.
“The daughter started crying. They were obviously in shock.”
Back at the station, the officer, who had now attended his second fatal road accident, acknowledged his own response.
“I think I was in shock too. Everyone reacts differently and I wasn’t prepared for their (the family’s) reaction; they were in shock as well, I just wasn’t prepared for the silence,” he said.
“Even the daughter, when she was crying was probably sobbing and it shocked me.
“The sergeant was good, he told me everyone reacts differently; it’s just one of those things.”
For the next few months, the officer kept in contact with the grieving family who were struggling with the aftermath and the unexpected loose ends that come with a death.
“The mother found that really hard because she kept dealing with her son’s death for months after,” he said. “She was still getting letters addressed to him and she wasn’t handling that at all.”
In time, the officer found out friends had tried to talk the man out of driving after there had been a minor argument where the group was socialising.
“One of his friends had tried to look after him, and they got to a house and this fella decided he wanted to go for a drive,” the officer said.
“So he’s got out of the car, ran and got his own car and taken off.
“He’d had the support network there that was trying to look after him and he’s made this crappy decision.”
The tragedy also had an effect on the officer’s demeanour, which altered immediately as a result of the harrowing incident.
His family noticed the change and an out-of-the-blue comment from his eldest son enlightened him to his state of mind.
“‘It’s good to have you back, Dad,’ he said to me a couple of weeks later,” the officer said, adding he asked his son what he meant.
“My wife had told him what happened and for the past weeks I’d been real different.
“I was really grumpy and didn’t realise it.”
As for drink-driving, the officer is at a loss as to why the offence takes place.
“I’m not a big drinker, (so) to my mind if you’re going to have a few drinks, why drive, especially these days with taxis, mobile phones. I could never understand why people drink and drive.
“And it just keeps happening all the time.”
If you have a story to tell about the effects of drink driving on you or your loved ones, please contact The Observer.