Sunday 24 September 2017

'I hope the idiots watched' - Review of RTE's devastating 'After the Crash'

Tom and Margaret Kelly
Tom and Margaret Kelly
Gerard and Paul Madigan
Dorothy and Jaeda-Rae Lynch
Russell Colman and wife Sabina
Sabina Collman, wife of Russell, with their children Hayden and Lily

Pat Stacey

I WAS driving home after the school run yesterday morning when an idiot in a black BMW came roaring up behind me on a 100km/h stretch of main road and overtook without indicating.

Earlier in the week, I was making the same journey when another idiot ignored a yield sign and cut across me on a roundabout. The idiot then decided to stop halfway through and wave on an articulated lorry coming from the left.

A couple of months ago, an idiot in a van stopped just short of ramming into my passenger door on a different roundabout while he was preoccupied with his phone. I imagine most of you have similar idiot war stories.

We live in a small village, so I have to drive a lot. In the 12 years we’ve been here, I’ve had two minor prangs (neither of them my fault) and one terrifyingly close shave (again, not my fault) that brought me, my daughter and the person driving the other car, within a whisker of serious injury or death. I count myself and my girl lucky.

Gerard and Paul Madigan
Gerard and Paul Madigan

I’m hoping some of the above idiots and a few more like them watched last night’s harrowing documentary After the Crash. This stark, desperately sad film wasn’t about the reasons behind the deaths of 188 people (83 drivers, 38 passengers, 35 pedestrians, 22 motorcyclists and 10 pedal cyclists) on our roads in 2016.

It didn’t point the finger or apportion blame or impugn. It wasn’t an investigation or an analysis. There wasn’t even a narration. It was about the pain, the suffering, the anguish and the loss felt by those left behind. Ordinary people, ordinary lives, extraordinary tragedy and suffering of the kind nobody should ever have to bear.

The name of every one of the 188 flashed up on screen. Too many lives and too many deaths for an hour-long documentary, so it focused on just a handful of them. Still more than enough to break your heart, though.

Russell Collman (37) died after his car collided with two trucks. His widow, Sabina, revealed what she told their tiny son and daughter: “Daddy’s car grew wings and flew high, high up into the sky to heaven.”

Russell Colman and wife Sabina
Russell Colman and wife Sabina

She recalled the brief surge of relief she’d felt when the blue flashing lights of a Garda car passed her drive, only for it to slowly reverse back to the house. “Is he in hospital or is he dead?” she asked the Gardaí. “They just said, ‘The latter.’”

Colin Vearncombe (53), better known to some of us as singer-songwriter Black (you’ll surely have heard his lovely 1987 song ‘Wonderful Life’), died after his car hit black ice while he was on his way to catch a pre-dawn flight from Cork Airport to Scotland for a gig. His widow, the Swedish opera singer Camilla Griehsel, recalled how he delighted in telling the audience at every show that he was soon to become a grandfather.

Dorothy and Jaeda-Rae Lynch
Dorothy and Jaeda-Rae Lynch

They have two grown-up sons, Max and Marius, but it was the youngest son, still a boy, who answered the door to the Gardaí on that awful night.

The pilot of the plane that Colin  was supposed to be on stopped at the scene of the accident. He learned days afterwards that the passenger missing from his list was the same man he’d tried to help. Being a poet as a well as a pilot, he wrote a moving poem, which Camilla read out here.

Sabina Collman, wife of Russell, with their children Hayden and Lily
Sabina Collman, wife of Russell, with their children Hayden and Lily

Limerick pals Michael Madigan (28) and Andrew Roche (23) died, two days apart, after the car they were in, which Andrew was driving, hit a van. Michael left behind three brothers. Two of them, Paul and Gerard, are in the picture above. The third, John, suffered from depression. Michael’s death hit him hard. He died by suicide the day after the inquest.

Andrew’s dad recalled arriving at the scene. The first thing he saw was his son’s boot. Andrew’s sister recalled the hospital: doctors and nurses rushing in and out, her brother’s blood on their clothes.

There were others: mother and son Tina and Joey Kelly (35 and 14, respectively) and Kathleen Pender Lynch (57), who all died in car crashes. Cyclist Donna Fox (30). Thirteen-year-old Lee Henry, knocked down by a car while crossing the road. Jenna Eve Smyth (25), whose father said: “If people would only think of the consequences of an accident.”

If only they would. Reports of these commonplace tragedies have become background music. They wash over us. They shouldn’t. This was a powerful plea to pause, listen and think.

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