Jerry Mitchell is a parent who spoke movingly at a Safe Drive, Stay Alive event in Dorset, below you can read what he had to say about losing his son Alex.
Alex was a bit older than you, he was 20 years old just shy of his 21st birthday. He was quite a popular lad and had a great sense of humour. Alex was mad on cars, most of his money went on his own car. It had featured in a custom car magazine, it looked pretty cool and it had a very loud sound system that filled the boot. Alex was pretty good on the road he never drank when he was driving, he was so anti-drugs it was almost funny, and since he was caught speeding he drove warily as he was terrified of losing his licence. The cars the lads had were not equipped with extensive safety features. Of course we used to worry about them, Claire my wife used to say to Alex, very seriously, “I never want to have that knock on the door”.
It was a Wednesday, the 21st March 2007, Alex was going into town he had an interview for a new job, and he wanted to buy Vicky his girlfriend a birthday present. I went off to work as usual and had arranged to give Alex a lift home later. Claire had a phone call from Alex at lunch time to say he’d been offered the job and was really excited about starting so things were looking pretty good.
Every now and then warnings go round at work maybe a road has been closed that you want to avoid. Well that happened before I left work that evening, but I didn’t really think anything of it I wasn’t going that way. Since then those warnings have a different effect on me, knowing that someone on that road may be in trouble.
I left around 6 o’clock and went to pick him up. I waited at the agreed place and couldn’t see him. I tried phoning him but no answer. I phoned his mother Claire at home but she didn’t know where he was but we agreed he would probably find his own way home and was probably celebrating, so I set off home.
When I arrived at the house there was a police car outside. I walked in and it was clear something was badly wrong. There was a uniformed policeman with my wife, she was really upset, and crying. Somehow she managed to say to me “Alex is dead”…
After that everything is a bit of a blur, but I remember the policeman stayed with us for quite a while and when he was sure we were able to manage, he left us.
Later we managed to piece together some of what happened that day. Alex met up with an old friend Paul who had a tuned up Honda. They decided to drive out toward Sherbourne. Alex was the passenger, they drove along a straight stretch of dual carriageway, no other cars were close. They had overtaken a number of cars and we were told they were driving very fast. We don’t know exactly what caused the accident, no fault was every found with Paul’s car, but whatever it was the speed they were travelling meant it was catastrophic. We don’t know why they were driving so fast we know they liked the excitement, when we are young we all think we are invincible accidents happen to other people don’t they? No one saw what happened, Paul must have lost control of the car it rolled and it ended up the wrong way round on it’s roof, spreading accident debris all the way. The car had no air bags on the door pillars to protect Alex’s head, we don’t think he ever regained consciousness. Knocked out he choked and couldn’t breath. Quite soon after a nurse caught up and tried to help, but by then Alex was already dead. Paul was very badly injured, they had to free him from the wreckage. He was taken by Air Ambulance to a specialist hospital. Paul died later on that night and like us his mother didn’t get to say goodbye. Two young men they were both just 20 years old with their whole lives ahead of them.
We only got to see Alex when we went to the mortuary. He didn’t seem badly bruised, small marks and cuts on his face and hands. It seemed almost as though he was sleeping, but when we touched him he was cold. It was hard to understand that he was dead or why, but it seems the forces involved in high speed car accidents are beyond most of our comprehension. The internal injuries that result are often very severe.
It is over 10 years since it happened. Sometimes we get through a day, two maybe more without thinking about it. But try to imagine what it is like losing someone you love, it has changed us all. We couldn’t carry on like before, it is very hard. Some say time is a healer but losing our child never seems to heal.
We both remember Alex’s friends coming to see us after the accident, flowers in hand, awkward with sad faces not quite sure what to do. That must have taken some courage. Most people didn’t know what to say to us and many avoided us altogether.
Occasions that should be simple celebrations like birthdays and Christmas are damaged by his absence. We were lucky to be invited to Alex’s best friend’s wedding, Alex should have been the best man. Unexpected things reduce us all to tears without much warning. We have all made sure we talk about him, it would be so easy when people ask innocently “do you have children?” to say yes we have a daughter, and avoid having to explain that we had a boy too. Perhaps you can imagine how a conversation might go after you dropped the bombshell that he was dead. I think what I am trying to explain is that it never really ends, the people affected by Alex’s and Paul’s deaths, the friends and families and all those other people we end up talking to, like you, about Alex dying.
The reason I am telling you all this is that I want you to listen to the people talking to you today and take heed of what we say. I want to impress upon you that speed is a killer. It may be exciting driving fast, and there are race tracks where you can drive fast without putting anyone in great danger, but on the public roads speed is certainly a killer. I don’t want any of you to make the same mistake Paul and Alex made, but enjoy long lives. All of you can positively influence how you use cars – so SAFE DRIVE, STAY ALIVE.