Expo tells tragic story of teen's sorrow after crash

By Lawrence Gullery

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Ben Morrison remembers "being pissed at a party" and then waking up in the Wellington Hospital's intensive care unit to news two of his closest friends had died.

Ben's recollection of the vehicle crash which inflicted life threatening injuries and claimed the lives of teenagers Max Harman and Robert Waikari in 2009, was recorded and viewed at this week's Youth Alcohol Expo in Taradale.

"I asked my parents what happened and they said I was in a car accident. I asked if they were okay and if my car was okay, and soon after that they told me it wasn't my car and not my family.

"They told me it was in the van. It dawned on me that if I was in the van, so were my mates, and I asked of they were okay. That's when they had to tell me two of my boys had passed."

 


 


Ben was a passenger in a van which crossed the centre line, crashing into an oncoming car on the Tutaekuri bridge, State Highway 50, near Taradale in the early hours of October 31, 2009.

Max and Robert, both 17, died after they were thrown out of the car over the bridge railing and into the Tutaekuri river, 15m below. Robert's girlfriend, Jordyn Beach, 17, was also thrown from the vehicle but survived. The female driver received minor injuries and the remaining passengers were treated at Hawke's Bay Hospital in Hastings.

"It all started on a Friday night, just a normal night. Me and my mates just talking about who was going to be the sober driver at my house. We were going to drive over to my mate's place. Most of the boys left in the van and I went to his house later.

"I turned up and later we started drinking, smoking, just watching the rugby, stuff we do every weekend. We were there for a few hours and set off to Havelock North to pick up some girls."

The group went back to Taradale where they continued drinking for most of the night until about 1am.

"We were going in the van, we didn't have a sober driver and set off to Havelock North but we never made it."

 


 


Ben was among the passengers in the rear of the van not wearing a seat belt when the vehicle crashed on the bridge.

"My head was against the side rail of the bridge. There was blood from my head (on the rail) and on the side of the road. I woke up in ICU about 10 days later after the crash. It was a gradual process, like waking up from sleep.

"I didn't know where I was and what I was doing. I was confused and I had hallucinations."

Ben's injuries were extensive including broken ribs, a punctured liver, a collapsed lung and cuts to his head. Plastic surgeons operated on his broken eye socket, and doctors were worried about the pressure building on his brain which had swelled after the crash.

"They told my parents potentially I could be a vegetable. They wouldn't have their son back after surgery. I got told two days after I woke up that I lost two friends, two of my closest friends.

"I didn't get to say goodbye to them. I asked when their funerals were and my parents had to tell me they had already been. I feel responsible because any of us could have made a change that night, made a better decision."

 


 


Ben said his group of friends often used the van to get around and socialise. They always elected a sober driver and it had never been a problem before.

"But in this instance we didn't have one. When we needed to make a decision, we were all too drunk to make one and ended up making a stupid decision.

"I was 18 at the time. The driver was 15, never driven a van before and I don't think she had driven a manual. She had the least amount to drink so we decided she should drive."


 


Ben was working full time but after the crash couldn't for two years. He said it was time he could have been studying or working for his future and just "getting on with my life".

"Every time I see someone in a van I think about it, when I see people who were friends with my boys, every time I go over a bridge I think about it. It's made me think about things differently and that potentially I could be a vegetable, they wouldn't have their son back after surgery.

"We all thought we were bulletproof, never thought this would happen to us. I went from being pissed at a party to waking up in ICU in Wellington with two dead mates."

 


 


Ben's mother, Tori, presented the video clip to the expo this week, which aims to encourage students to make better choices when driving or stepping into a car as a passenger.

"Everyone in the van takes responsibility because anyone could have made a decision not to allow this to happen," Tori told the students.

Her presentation also illustrated the ripple effects of the crash.

"It included the driver and passenger of the car which the van hit on the bridge.

Both suffered moderate injuries, but memories of the incident live on. Tori said the driver felt responsible even though he made every move possible to avoid the crash.

"Hawke's Bay is a small place, and I found out later the young man in that other car still felt a lot of guilt. He was at school with Max.

"The driver feels that if he hadn't been there that night, the crash would not have happened."

The students were also told the crash tied up all of the available St John Ambulance units that night. At the time they were attending two heart attack incidents in Napier.


One of the units was on its way back to the hospital in Hastings when it came across the crash and stopped to attend.

The expo heard that if Ben did not receive immediate medical attention after the crash, he may have died as well.

With all of the ambulance staff tied up at the crash scene, it left the greater Hastings, Napier and Central Hawke's Bay vulnerable.

Tori finished her presentation showing a photo of Max and Rob who she described as "two beautiful boys" everyone missed.

"This photo was taken the Saturday before [the crash] when all the boys went to the races in Rob's van. The reason why I stand here in front of you today, and Ben talks, and Rob and Max's families are okay with us being here, is because we don't want the same ting to happen to you guys.

"So it's pretty simple. Don't get in a car with a drunk driver. Don't drink drive yourself. Phone mum and dad, a friend, a taxi or crash the night with someone. Don't do it because you will regret that decision for the rest of your lives."


 


The video above shows the car's collision with two trees and the bodies of two people thrown from the vehicle. A survivor of this crash, Jared Thomas, helped police present this video to the Youth Alcohol Expo. His website is: http://www.jaredsmessage.co.nz

- Hawkes Bay Today

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