A single moment has, as of today, claimed the lives of an entire NSW family. Home and Away actress Jessica Falkholt, 29, was pronounced dead at 10:20 this morning, the final victim of a Boxing Day car crash that killed her parents, Lars and Vivian, and her 21-year-old sister, Annabelle.
It’s believed the Ryde family were returning from a Christmas holiday, when a white 4WD, driven by Ulladulla man Craig Whitall, collided head-on with their car on the Princes Highway near Sussex Inlet. The youngest survived for two days, her parents never left the scene alive.
That single moment will forever live in the memories of those who witnessed it. The brave motorists who were with Whitall as he passed, who checked the pulses of the two young women, and pulled them from the wreckage before it burst into flames. One, identified as Lisa Elmas, told Fairfax she battled to come to terms with what she saw that day: “I couldn’t breathe. I was hyperventilating, walking round and round in circles… To be honest, I don’t think I’ll ever get over it.”
That single moment will forever live in the imaginations of the Falkholt’s loved ones. On Friday, Vivian’s brother, Paul Ponticello, was left to eulogise his sister, his brother-in-law and his niece at the trio’s Concord funeral. “Their lives ending on a highway makes absolutely no sense,” he said. “We take little comfort in knowing that they are together and always will be.”
That single moment from which only one obvious good has so far come.
On Monday, the NSW Government committed to making our roads safer by doubling the number of roadside drug tests across the state from 100,000 to 200,000 by 2020. Drivers will also now be tested for cocaine, and maximum penalties have been brought into line with those for high-range drink driving.
The announcement was sparked after the Falkholt crash lent a further four names to the 392 lost on NSW roads in 2017. Preliminary data from the first half of that year showed that 42 of those deaths had resulted from accidents in which drug-affected drivers were a major contributing factor.
“This summer has been a tragic time for too many on our roads,” NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said. “Many families and friends have been left with the heartache of losing loved ones while thousands will now live with lifelong injuries from crashes.”
Premier Berejiklian also confirmed the government is examining the possibility of restrictions on drivers with legal prescription drugs in their system, after it was revealed Craig Whitall was returning from a Nowra methadone clinic at the time of the collision. It should be stressed, however, that investigations into the tragedy are ongoing, and there is currently no indication that Whitall was impaired by the drug.
This particular devastating accident, however, has sparked the positive change.
“We will be seeking advice from police and road safety and medical experts on the appropriate restrictions to balance the need of people taking medication and the safety of the broader community on the road," the Premier said.
“We know that we need to continue to be vigilant to ensure we keep our community safe on our roads.”