I’m looking at a 6 year old boy. He’s dead, hit by a car. His parents looking down at his little body, they are holding the hand of their other 11 year old son. I remember little about the boy, I remember everything about the look on the faces of what was left of his family. An expression I had never seen before, and hope will never see again.
I am looking at a car of Teenagers. All dressed in jeans and T-shirts ready to drive off again, not a mark on them, except they cannot, because they are dead. I remember Anna who was killed instantly by a drunk driver. I remember her bare feet and flip flops in the foot well of the car, not her obvious fatal head injury.
Simply put, these being just 3 of the 150 or so fatal road traffic collisions I have attended as a police officer and investigated, it seems that the aspect I remember is what is out of place. It’s eerie, it’s unnatural. Flip flops are meant for beaches, sunny days and happy times, but here they are in a scene of death and destruction. The Teenagers, killed on a side impact into the wall with no crush zone to take the impact, and the 6 year old Craig, no little chap should be seen in that situation, not by his family enjoying a day out.
25 years in the Police and I’m still front line on shifts. A sergeant based at Exeter in Devon and Cornwall on an Armed Response Section, dual rolled with traffic and one little part of my roll is as Senior Investigating Officer of road death and serious injuries. I think back and I get these snap shots in my mind, but strangely enough, not of the mangled bodies, the crushed skulls the mutilation, but of entirely different aspects. And having had 25 years to think why, I have come to some conclusions and I also have an idea as to why I ‘enjoy’ attending them.
The key to turning up to the scene, is to say to yourself, ‘Right, what the hell happened here?’. It is my job to find out. I do it, not just for a prosecution if someone is liable, because a lot of the time there isn’t a prosecution, just an inquest. Her Majesty wants to find out what happened to one of her citizens. My job is to find out what happened, and to ensure there is no one liable for a prosecution. I need to show it wasn’t in fact a murder, to find out if it was a medical episode, bad driving, mechanical problem, weather conditions, issues with the road layout or condition of the road, to find out if it was possibly suicide. To find closure for the family that is left, as there is nothing worse than being left with wondering why or how your dearest loved one died. That is why I do it, and when you achieve that, then that is enjoyable. You have made a difference.
Gone are the days of a ‘pull yourself together’ attitude within the police. There is the formal assistance in every Force now, but most of all, we share the grief and stress within the department. We all feel it, we all understand, we all thank someone it was not our families involved, not yet, hopefully not ever. My latest was to ask my dear friend who is a Collisions Investigator how he felt after listening to a desperate recording of a 999 call from a young victim screaming on the phone trapped in a car fire. The Fire Service arrived to find the car with him in it, burnt out. I chose not to listen to that recording. It was not my case, I didn’t want to listen to it, it would have felt like I was intruding on the young man, and I know that it could be just my next case that suddenly effects me, so I am cautious. If it’s my case however, I will always look at the body in the car or under the blanket, I will look at everything. It’s important I personalise with him or her, It’s important to show to the family that it’s not just another investigation to me. This is their everything to them, and it shouldn’t be seen as a formality.
I often hear snipes about Traffic officers targeting speeders, I don’t consider myself a traffic officer, I am Armed Response with the traffic bolt on, but people don’t realise we have looked over the bodies of numerous corpses, so yes, it is personal. And when the over hasty Sales Rep swears at us and says, ‘Just give us the bloody ticket’ you can see why we have no patience and do just that. What I find far more rewarding than giving tickets is to educate early. Students who are just about to drive, being carried in cars or just started to drive, that being with the Learn2Live Road Safety Campaign. We tackle road safety in a way it gets into the hearts of these young people, to change the social acceptance of being driven, or driving a car dangerously. One of the talks I give was recorded here… https://youtu.be/UOW6yS0cVHU?list=FLHYP33zH2PwY26gSOHsoC_g and it gives an idea of what it’s about. So please, if your son or daughter has the chance to attend a learn2live event with their school or college which is national or listen to the youtube video of mine, please make sure they do so.
Twitter ID – @DC_ARVSgt
@Learn2Live2 for Devon and Cornwall
@TheHonestTruth for just as important information for young drivers.