Last month a Queensland police officer wrote a heart-wrenching open letter to motorcyclists asking them to ride safely after he attended a fatal motorcycle crash and realised he knew the victim.
You can read that story here.
What Senior Sergeant Ian “Parkie” Parks found by sharing his story on social media was that the community responded to its realness, which was in stark contrast to the “sterile” reports that usually come from the media departments of the emergency services.
A friend and colleague of Parks, known as ‘Senior Constable Chris C’ was inspired to write his own story down.
It is a recount of the tragic road accident, which marred his childhood and informs his job in traffic enforcement everyday.
Although I was a few months away from being six years old, I can still remember most of that day clearly. It was a beautiful summers’ day in June 1980 and I had been playing with my two younger brothers Matthew and Gregory and some friends outside our houses on Limestone Road in Belfast. Mum was in the house with my twin sisters who were not yet one year old. My grandparents lived five doors further along the street.
At some point during that morning, one of us had found a little red rubber ball. These balls were common toys back then. Rubber and incredibly bouncy. Someone had lost their ‘bouncy ball’ as we called them and we were having fun with our newfound free toy. The street where we were playing was typical for an inner city residential area in Belfast. 20 or so terraced homes built from brick running along the side of a relatively busy roadway. Being terraced homes, on street parking was the norm. There was a footpath formed from concrete paving slabs which were usually pretty unevenly laid.
As chance would have it, one of the bounces of the ball must have hit an uneven paving slab and the ball shot into the air and across the road, coming to rest on the other side. The next thing I remember is seeing my youngest brother Gregory, run between two parked cars and onto the road, intending to go get the ball.
I recall hearing a peculiar sound as my eyes were on my brother, watching him sliding to my left along the road. I can remember thinking that he was making a really loud noise as he was sliding. In retrospect, the noise I heard was the car braking and skidding to a halt. It took me a moment to realise what had happened. I then ran the short distance home. I can remember telling my mother then “Gregory has been hit by a car!”, and I remember her screaming and running out to the street.
The next memory I have is sitting in my grandparents’ home and having someone, my dad or uncle, return with a brown paper bag which contained Gregory’s blood soaked clothing.
I remember his funeral. A tiny white coffin that did not need the usual six pallbearers, my mother being so grief-stricken that she needed to have the coffin opened during the ceremony so she could see his face one last time.
I wish we had never found that ball.
The events of that day have defined and changed my life in many ways, not to mention the lives of my parents, siblings and extended families. I have never spoken to my mother directly about the events of that day, but I know that she has been in terrible pain ever since, though being a stoic Irish woman, she would never let the cracks show. I have never known who the driver was, nor how their life changed as a result of that day – but I have no doubt that it would have.
I would not say that day made me become or want to become a police officer, but I found that those events have certainly shaped my attitude while ‘on the job’. While never wanting to specialise in Road Policing, I have never hesitated in enforcing any traffic offences I have witnessed. My attitude is that, instead of giving ‘warnings’ and being a ‘nice police officer’, a ticket provides a more pertinent and lasting reminder that the roads can be a dangerous place. Most people are blissfully unaware of the inherent dangers they expose themselves and others to while cocooned within their shiny air conditioned music players, watching the world from the inside of their metal and glass bubble. Any tickets that I issue are usually accompanied by some inference of injury to the driver or to someone else through overt action, ignorance or distraction. I can personally attest to the fact that someone driving a vehicle, long before the advent of texting while driving was even conceived, can end someone else’s life in an instant.
Having been to many traffic accidents over the years, mostly innocuous, but some significant, others very serious, I still believe that road safety is and should be of importance to all police. It is easy to think of traffic enforcement as ‘stats collecting’ or ‘revenue raising’ but that’s not what enforcement is meant to achieve. Not every copper issues tickets just to keep the ‘bosses’ happy.
When I consider that a driver in 1980 ended my brothers’ life as he stepped onto the road between two parked cars, I believe that the driver had zero chance to avoid that outcome. My brother wasn’t lingering on the road. As soon as he walked clear of the parked cars, he was dead. When I think of the innumerable distractions available to drivers today, I think road safety and enforcement are matters of increasing importance and need to be addressed.
Has that day influenced my life only in a negative way? Today, I am a Police Driving Instructor at the Driving Skills Section, attached to Wacol Academy in Brisbane. I believe that since I have started working for Queensland Police, it is here that I am doing my best work. I know that I would not be here if it weren’t for that day.
Feature image: Matthew, Chris and Gregory, circa June 1980 (supplied).