Young journo's crash course in tragedy

By Zac Fleming

Trainee journalist Zac Fleming was on his way to work at the Herald on Sunday yesterday, when he almost became the latest car fatality. He tells his story.

The headfirst collision happened in Great North Rd, in central Auckland.  Photo / Jason Oxenham
The headfirst collision happened in Great North Rd, in central Auckland. Photo / Jason Oxenham

My university lecturers have been harping on for ages that we, as reporters, must always put ourselves in the position of the subject in any story we write.

Sometimes it's hard when I do police calls on a Saturday, though.

I'm on the phone and get wind of a car crash, and I have to remind myself that it's people hurt, not just another story for the paper some have called the "Car Crash on Sunday".

Yesterday, I got a crash-course in trauma reporting.

On my early-morning drives to rowing training, I can usually count the number of cars on the road on two hands, especially at 6.05am on a Saturday.

But yesterday one of those lonely other vehicles and I collided. I smashed headfirst into the car on Great North Rd in Auckland, and instead of going into work an hour later to call every major police station in the country in search of stories, I came very close to becoming the subject of one myself.

It was dark, the sun hadn't risen and as I pulled out on to Williamson Ave I saw two guys stumbling home, who'd clearly had a very different Friday night to my 10.30pm bedtime for rowing.

Everyone always says things go in slow-motion before something bad happens, but I don't buy it. I didn't even have time to brake before slamming into the Toyota.

My seatbelt worked and so did the airbags, thankfully. But the moment after I saw the car, I found myself face-first in my airbag with a bleeding nose.

One kind stranger left his car at the traffic lights and ran to see if I was okay. I thought I was, until I tried to open the door and get out. Suddenly, my legs buckled.

I remember him calling the police, and then looking at me and saying: "Oh, you better send an ambulance too."

A few minutes later, four police cars, an ambulance and a fire truck arrived - as did my girlfriend, who had assumed the worst.

As a yet-to-graduate journalist, it was my girlfriend's reaction that made me reconsider all those people in the car crashes I report on each week.

They probably all have a friend or family member who lost the plot when they saw the flashing lights and heard the sirens, just like mine.

- Herald on Sunday

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