Sixteen years old and no clue about how special life really is
My name is Richard Jones. One night in November 1998, I was in a car accident where three of my friends were killed, one had been my best friend since Prep. There are so many different emotions and descriptions involved in any accident, and especially a one that’s fatal. To give you an idea what it was like for me in my accident, I will read you a piece of writing I wrote in Year 12, months after the accident. I called it:
IS THIS WHAT DEATH FEELS LIKE?
Christ, is this what death feels like? Looking down at the grass with vomit pouring from my mouth, I choke for air. Sucking for air makes my throat rattle. It’s as if a bullet has pierced through my skin and lodged in my throat. My tender lungs reject the air I breathe in with a stabbing pain. My head shoots up and I yell out in pain but all is silent. My senses begin to react: ears first. I hear voices behind me, “somebody get some bloody help." Why are they saying that? My eyes focus. A lump of molten metal, perhaps an ugly sculpture like something I’d find in the scrap bin of a metal work class lays before me. I scan the object from top to bottom and make out the form of a twisted and tortured car door.
I dismiss the object half consciously and crawl a few feet further only to turn my head and look again. What…..Why is that there?
With an overwhelming sense of fear the lump on my head begins to thump as I make the link between cries for help from behind me, the smashed door beside me and where I’ve just crawled from. Again my senses struggle to define the object that lies before me but my instincts confirm what my eyes can only now make out. Metal is twisted and turned and the once light brown car is black as if it has been turned inside out. I fall backwards in shock at what I see in front of me. I try to stand but the pain in my legs is too much. I crawl away in a desperate attempt to forget what I’d just seen, collapsing under the street light with a groan. The bullet in my throat comes back.
I hear a panicked voice and then notice an unfamiliar man looking at me with an alarmed face. The man comes to me as an Ambulance tears down the road with the urgent sirens pierced through my deadened senses. The man helps me across to the other side of the grassed area where my friends were sìtting with ripped, blood stained shirts and pants. I glance to the left and see someone lying on the grass. I notice that it’s Tim and try and run over to him. A chest belonging to the unfamiliar face blocks me and the man tells me that I cannot see him. I reach the end of the grass area still looking back at Tim. I’m told to sit down. The night air starts to sting my face. I notice blood on the side of Tim’s face, no movement. People crowd around him. No movement. Fingers touch his neck. It is serious.
He begins to whimper, cradles his face in his hands and braces himself for what would be the worst night of his life. I lift my head after a minute to look for my other friends. Four other boys are sitting with me. I strain my mind trying to remember who was in the car; eight I think. I account for six. I scan the area but I can’t see the other boys. Sickening thoughts flood my mind but I cannot face them. I convince myself that they’re both all right. And Tim behind me…..That sheet over his head is just there to keep him warm. I take deep breaths to stop myself from being sick. I remember the movie `White Squall’ where a character said ‘1,2,3 wakeup’ in order to get out of a nightmare…..But it doesn’t work. This is real.
He lies in the cold hospital bed waiting for someone to come to him and change his life forever. Finally the news comes. A Policeman approaches the bed. The dropping eyes and wrinkles that come only when something is wrong tells the story. I say to the Policeman, “I don’t want to know, I just don’t want to know." “Well, your gonna have to find out some day" he replies.
Sixteen years old and no clue about how special life really is. The driver was unlicensed and we were only going two minutes up the road.
It only took 48 seconds for it to happen. But who was going to walk? Now three of my friends are dead and what do I have to say for it? Youth does not provide an excuse. When the judge hands out the sentence he knows the driver wouldn’t ever do it again but he also knows that if one good thing can come out of this event it would be that kids think twice about taking out their parents car. This is what I hope happens too.
That piece of writing is about what happened to me but it’s a similar story in so many families lives with teenage children. I have written this to hopefully discourage all of you not to make the choice that my friends and I made.
On the 21st of November 1998 a Nissan Skyline Wagon careered off a Frankston residential street hitting a tree and killing three of my friends. I was sitting in the back seat along with 3 others, 2 people behind me in the luggage compartment and two in the front. A total of eight 16 and 17 year old boys in a car fit for five. The driver unlicensed only by chance drove past my mate’s place while we were standing out the front. The three boys that were already in the car, we knew from School.
We accepted a lift up to the local school so that we could go skate boarding and shoot a homemade lemon gun. The School was a kilometer away up a steep hill; it was a trip we took all the time by foot. This time a 2-minute car trip was more tempting.
Within 48 seconds of getting in the car, we were driving up the hill at 96km/h, the driver swerved the car and lost control causing the car to spin off the road and hit a tree and finishing up in someone’s front garden.
Sitting to the right of me was Daniel; he died shortly after the accident with the Paramedics. Tim was sitting at the back right passenger door; he took most of the impact and died instantly. Blair was sitting in the back luggage compartment and also received most of the impact killing him instantly also.
When I got in that car I was aware of the fact that this was the first time I was getting into a car which was not safe. The first time I was being driven by an unlicensed driver, the first time stepping into an overloaded car. Being aware of these factors I was also aware of the consequences.
Having these thoughts in my head I still thought nothing could happen to me, it’s only 2 minutes up the road. 47 seconds later I experienced the worst feeling I will ever have.
That one-second before impact I can remember as clearly as the one that has just passed now. The feeling of being squashed between two people as the car swerves to one side, hearing rubber screeching, seeing the driver struggle for control. All these bad things beginning to happen, things that we all said to ourselves never would, and nothing could be done, the outcome was inevitable. At the 48th second my life was changed.
I can’t remember the 48th second, I can’t remember going off the road into the tree or seeing Tim fly out the window, Daniel take his final breath or Blair being smothered by crumpled metal. If I had, my life would be unbearable.
It has been over 3+ years since the accident; I still hurt when I think about it. I always will. It hurts to think of the pain the families go through every single day. It hurts to think of my Year 12 Formal, Valedictory dinner, Orientation Week at Uni., getting my license, or just going out with my friends. My friends have missed out on all this. They have missed out on a whole lifetime because of 48 stupid seconds.
Think of what it would be like to be responsible for all of this pain.
To go to sleep at night and have the images of this tragedy play over and over again in your mind.
A tragedy like this doesn’t only affect those immediately related to those involved, it’s a spiral of pain and memories that affects so many people.
Look at the person next to you. Think about their family. Think about all the fun times you’ve had together. Now think about buying flowers, getting dressed for their funeral, reading a poem or eulogy in memory. Think about facing their parents, seeing the pain and loss that will always linger in their faces. Think of the spiral. Think.
I could tell you so many things that I think might change your mind about getting into an unsafe car but I know what it’s like to feel invincible, to watch the TAC ads on TV in shock, but still say to myself that could never happen to me. Well it can happen to you. Just think before you act. Don’t get into a car like we did, just to save ten minutes. If we had thought that night, my best friend would still be here.