Ruth is the human interest reporter and a photographer for the Bay of Plenty Times.

Daily battle after crash changes life

Richard Brown, 51, was in a horrendous vehicle accident 25 years ago where he sustained brain injuries. Photo / George Novak
Richard Brown, 51, was in a horrendous vehicle accident 25 years ago where he sustained brain injuries. Photo / George Novak

Twenty five years ago, Tauranga man Richard Brown got behind the wheel of a car after drinking at a 21st birthday party.

His brother Mike and two friends got in the car with him when he left the celebrations in Manurewa. A lot of drinking had gone on.

The carload of people never made it home to Auckland's Mission Bay. The events of that night changed Richard's life forever.

The Bay of Plenty Times Weekend recently reported that road crashes continue to shatter lives, and carnage costs the Western Bay region almost $2.7 million a week.

Driving along Tamaki Dr, Richard failed to take the last bend into Mission Bay from St Heliers.

Like the three others in the car with him, he had fallen asleep.

He hit the sea wall, where the car flipped upside down and landed on the wall.

Emergency services first thought two people in the car were dead because the crash was so horrific.

Richard was admitted to hospital with major head injuries. He was in a coma and on life support for a number of weeks.

His brother, Mike, had a fractured spine, and a passenger in the back suffered a broken pelvis.

Everybody had been wearing seatbelts.

Doctors eventually made the call to take Richard off life support because of the severity of his injuries.

"They did but he pulled through," said his brother, and carer, Mike Brown.

Richard sustained brain damage and lost the vision in one eye and the hearing in one ear.

He has trouble with the most simple tasks, like walking or making a bowl of cereal, and his balance has been severely affected.

He needs to be supervised almost constantly.

Richard was in hospital for about three months before he was discharged into his parents' care and started rehabilitation.

In slow, slurred speech, Richard told the Bay of Plenty Times he could not remember much of the evening. "I don't even know who's the 21st party was," he said.

Now 51, Richard attends Optionz, a rehabilitation and recovery centre, four days a week with others affected by brain injuries.

He has lived in the care of his brother Mike and his partner Sarah Carr for the past 11 years. Before that his parents looked after him.

"Richard is totally dependent on other people to be there for him all the time. He always has to have someone there. He lost all his independence. He cannot go out on his own, do things, he will never be able to have his own family, or go travelling," said Ms Carr.

He can't even go to the beach, a few hundred metres from their Papamoa home, on his own.

"It was a total loss of independence," she said.

"Rich can get a bowl of cereal, it takes him a long time, but he can do it. Or get to the fridge and get his water bottle but that's about it.

"The warning, not to drink and drive. That's what we say to our kids. You don't want to end up like your uncle - just because of some stupidity."

Richard said he too would never wish the same thing on anyone else.

Social cost:

* The Ministry of Transport put the overall cost of road crashes resulting in death and injury at $141.6 million for the Western Bay of Plenty and Tauranga regions in 2014, the most recent figures available. The social cost per fatal crash in the region was calculated at $3.89 million. A serious-injury crash cost $822,000 and a minor-injury crash $69,000 each.

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