On an evening in 2009, seven teenage boys piled into a car to go to a party. They never arrived. The driver - who was not drunk or high - made a routine error and then overcorrected. The vehicle flew off the road. One passenger died on impact. Others were flung from the car. Lech Blaine, 17, walked away uninjured. In the aftermath, two more died in hospital and one was left disabled, in an incident that convulsed their rural community.
In this extract from his new book Car Crash: A Memoir, Lech writes about the days after the crash, finding out the fate of his friends, and what it's like to have people think you've died.
On Sunday morning, I was woken up by my iPhone vibrating against the lavender sheets with a backlog of missed calls and text messages.
Thank god your ok
One of the rumours spreading across Toowoomba was that I’d been driving the vehicle and had died on impact. Allegedly dead, I made some awkward calls. Girls in my social circle were marshalling mourners across the city. A small group, aimless in their bereavement, had formed a vigil outside the hospital.
‘You should be here with us,’ one told me.
In the hallway, I listened to reports blaring from the TV. ‘It’s a tragedy sure to rock this tight-knit community,’ a sentimental anchor declared to my couch-bound mother from a studio on the east coast. The spectacle was wrung out for the rest of the long weekend.
I fled to the hospital, driving under blue skies without inhibition about operating a motor vehicle. Outside Emergency, a group of shivering teenagers hugged one another, between checking their phones for Facebook updates.
‘Lech!’ shrieked a girl from Downlands.
My existence was the subject of disbelief. I hadn’t been touched this vigorously since retiring from contact sport.
‘You’re a miracle!’
Vincent was the blond-haired, blue-eyed school captain of Downlands. He gave me a bear hug. I liked Vincent well enough, but I wasn’t a fan of physical intimacy with other men, unless rugby league provided me with an alibi.
‘Sorry,’ he said, apologising for my visceral resistance.
‘No worries, mate,’ I said. ‘Appreciate it.’
The group provided updates. Henry was at the Royal Brisbane. Tim was at the Princess Alexandra. Their conditions were categorically critical. Nick was in a critical but stable condition at Gold Coast Hospital. Dom was in a serious but stable condition behind one of the tinted windows above us.
I stood on the sidewalk nodding at terms I didn’t understand. Critical. Serious. Stable. A phrase kept ringing above the din of medical lingo: induced coma. But one passenger was missing from the updates.