Ambo drives home warning
THE chuckles and murmuring of teenage bravado were silenced the instant paramedic Paul Alexander began to speak.
“You are so close to being adults that we are going to treat you like adults,” he said.
“Some people will be physically and emotionally affected by what they see here today.
“If we see anyone laugh or smirk at an inappropriate time they will be dragged out of their seats so fast their shoes will be left behind.
“If you don’t believe me – try me ... we are talking about life and death.”
No one tried him – and I doubt any of the students had heard the likes of what they were about to hear.
The group, from a generation renowned for its short attention span, scarcely moved for almost two hours.
Paul went on explain how he’d seen only one motor vehicle accident in his 14 years as an ambulance paramedic but he’d seen hundreds of motor vehicle crashes, which were completely avoidable – the result of poor driving choices.
“That’s what makes our jobs so bloody frustrating,” he said.
He used some of his stories as gruesome examples of the effects of rapid deceleration.
Paul said he would never forget the sound made by the broken bones of a 16-year-old boy as he dragged his dead body from a car wreck to save the boy’s 13-year-old brother.
That boy died instantly, he said, because his spinal cord had been ripped from his skull.
Other common effects of deceleration, he said, were muscles being torn from bones and hearts being ripped from aortas.
The horrific stories continued – a young girl whaling and screaming in pain while trapped: “After a while her screams died down to moans. The moans turned to gurgled sounds. The gurgles turned to silence.”
But these stories were not told to simply scare the audience, Paul assured them.
“They are to demonstrate the consequences that exist out there if you make a poor choice driving,” he said.
For those not convinced about the consequences, Paul explained how those who survived crashes after driving recklessly often faced jail – and it was no tea party.
Paul said a male rape victim at Cessnock had grabbed him on the ankle, pleading with him not be sent back to jail after being stitched up after an attack.
“We are critically aware that some of you have been touched by tragedy recently,” he said.
“That’s one of the reasons that we are here today.
“Please do not let their deaths be in vain – please learn something from it.”
The video footage that followed showed a barrage of fatal crash scenes, grieving parents at those scenes and dead bodies of attractive young people – much like those watching – being dragged into body bags on the roadside.
By this stage the message was hitting its target hard – an ambulance chaplain walked around distributing tissues to crying youngsters and friends comforted each other.
But the most powerful speaker was yet to take the microphone.
Michelle Davis of Newcastle lost both her teenage sons, Brendan, 19, and Matt, 16, on July 14, 2005, in a road crash only minutes from her home.
The car was doing 120km/h in a 70km/h zone.
But the students didn’t know all that when Michelle asked them to raise their hands if they’d been in a car when the driver was speeding – almost all the students raised their hands.
“From today – you say no,” she said.
“I don’t want your mother to live the pain I live every day.
“I want you to think of your mums when I tell you this.”
The last words Michelle said to her son, on the phone 45 minutes before his death, were, “I love you, too, mate”.
Michelle took the audience through the afternoon of her sons’ deaths – how two female police officers appeared at her door on the evening two hours after the crash, asked her to confirm her name, insisted she sit down and then said the words: “We’re sorry to inform you that both your sons have been killed in a motor vehicle crash today at Morpeth and we have to get you there.”
“Now your mum might do what I did – I panicked and tried to ring my son’s phone, they must have made a mistake I’d just spoken to them,” Michelle said.
“I remember sitting down in the kitchen and thinking ‘this doesn’t happen to me – this happens to other people’.”
Michelle’s visit to the morgue to identify her sons was chilling.
“When their dad went in and saw them first – I still don’t have the words to describe the scream that came from that man.
She spoke of how it affected the boys’ little sister, then 10, and how now aged 15; she had ‘hit the wall’ faced with the reality that forever meant forever.
Michelle went on to say that ‘mum and dad will call on your friends to help out’ with choosing the music for the funeral and what to dress the body in.
Saying that her life had ‘turned to shit’ ever since the crash, Michelle explained to the crowd that kids are what parents live for.
“Pretty much, you’re what we do everything for,” she said.
“Brendan had been driving since he was 13, he was raised on a farm, he raced in rallies – driving is not the problem.
“We know you can drive but you’re not bullet proof.”
The Grafton-based organisers of yesterday’s event, ambulance officer Peter Maxwell and Grafton High School teacher Vivienne Nichols are hoping to make presentations like yesterday’s a regular occurrence in Clarence