Sam Boyer

Sam Boyer is a police reporter for the NZ Herald.

Children's progress after fatal crash a relief for dad

Matt Ruddell's son and daughter lost their mother in crash outside wedding venue - but 'every day gets better.'

Matt Ruddell's children Faith and Phoenix are recovering in the Starship. Photo / Richard Robinson
Matt Ruddell's children Faith and Phoenix are recovering in the Starship. Photo / Richard Robinson

Matt Ruddell says it's the little things that are getting him through, as his two young children slowly recover from a horror car crash that killed his former partner.

Yesterday morning, 3-year-old Faith - who suffered bruising on her brain and a broken leg - gave her dad a big smile and put her arms out for a cuddle.

The night before, 4-year-old Phoenix - who is in a 75 per cent body cast with two broken legs and a broken arm and pelvis - fell asleep hugging the toy train he was given as an early birthday present.

"Every day gets better and better," the 27-year-old Tauranga father said.

Read more: Crash tragedy: 'Mummy's now in heaven'

"I was probably numb for the first two or three days. I was a walking zombie. It was a waiting game ... but every little twitch or smile was another weight being lifted off your shoulders."

Six days ago, Mr Ruddell's former partner, Tracey O'Brien, 26, was killed in the crash outside the Charlemagne Lodge wedding venue on State Highway 2 at Te Puna. She died despite the efforts of bridegroom Jordan Mountfort and his groomsman.

Senior Sergeant Ian Campion said Ms O'Brien wasn't wearing her seatbelt, and "preliminary indications" were that she might have been texting.

Her southbound vehicle was "well and truly" in the northbound lane when it collided with another vehicle.

Yesterday, Faith remained in the high-dependency unit in the Starship hospital, recovering from her head injuries.

Mr Ruddell, who separated from Ms O'Brien about six months ago, had still not told the children their mother had died. He was being completely honest with them, but said their mother's whereabouts hadn't come up, amid all the other hospital confusion.

In the meantime, it was his children's daily improvements that helped him to cope with the trauma of the past week.

Faith wasn't talking much but was communicating, and would shout when she wasn't happy, which he said was a positive sign. His mother Karen and partner Kim Rennie had brought in nail polish to do Faith's nails, which she was enjoying.

Phoenix was "chatting away", but wanted to get up and about, Mr Ruddell said. "Fee is a tearaway when he's not bandaged up. So he's gone from full-throttle everywhere to not being able to move. It's been a bit frustrating for him."

However, a new toy train had been a godsend, helping to improve the 4-year-old's mood.

He had been told he couldn't have it until his birthday, but as he lay unconscious in Tauranga Hospital waiting to be airlifted to the Starship, his grandmother whispered in his ear that he wouldn't have to wait - he could have it now.

"Once my mum said that to him, his heart rate jumped and his eyes opened; he started twitching his arm.

"That was reassuring, just as we [the rest of the family] were about to make the 2-hour drive."

Phoenix and the train had been almost inseparable since.

How to help:
www.givealittle.co.nz/cause/phoenixandfaith

- NZ Herald

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