A horror no parent should witness

 

Like many kids, little Olivia Douglas had a pretty low pain threshold and a small splinter in her finger was enough to make her howl.

So, when her mum frantically ran towards the wreckage of the car the eight-year-old was travelling in and was confronted with an eerie silence, she knew her little girl was gone.

The morning of September 14 last year was a busy one as Tegan Mitchell rushed to get her family ready for a several hour drive from their home on the Gold Coast to a netball carnival in Bundaberg in central Queensland.

"We were travelling up in a bit of a convoy," Tegan told news.com.au.

"The other driver met us here at our house and we all set off together. We got to Gympie and stopped for a break and as we were about to leave again, she asked if she could go in the other car for a bit."

Olivia was excited, as she often was on these trips to the country for sporting competitions.

She wasn't due to play that weekend but was keen to see her big brother in action on the court and catch up with kids she'd met at other meets.

"I said it was fine for her to go in the other car," Tegan said.

"Then I said 'I love you' and she said 'I love you, mum'. Off she went. I'm so glad I said that to her."

Olivia Douglas with her mum Tegan Mitchell.
Olivia Douglas with her mum Tegan Mitchell.

As they neared the town of Childers at about 1pm, less than an hour away from their destination, Tegan's husband Tim saw a sickening sight in the rear view mirror.

"A car had collided with someone behind us," she said.

"I turned around and couldn't see the car Olivia was in anymore. It had been right behind us. Then I saw it - it was rolling. We pulled out and turned around.

"I got out and just started running. At first, I didn't know what had happened. We hadn't actually seen it - just the aftermath of the impact.

"It turned out, the driver Olivia was with had fallen asleep behind the wheel and drifted into the oncoming lane and smashed into a ute."

She called out for Olivia. There was no reply.

"Olivia was a bit precious. She was always a little bit over the top when she was in pain, even if she got a little splinter or something, she'd be yelping.

"But I didn't hear her screaming that day. I didn't hear anything. I guess we have comfort in knowing that she didn't suffer."

The late Olivia with her big brother and little sister.
The late Olivia with her big brother and little sister.

Tegan and Tim stayed with Olivia by the side of the highway until emergency service crews arrived. She was killed, along with the driver of the ute, Shane Old, 59.

"There's no way any parent should have to see their child like that," Tegan said.

The devastated family is sharing their story for Rural Road Safety Month, which runs throughout August, in a bid to prevent others from witnessing similarly tragic scenes.

Almost two-thirds of motor vehicle fatalities in 2018 occurred on rural and regional roads.

New research by the Australian Road Safety Foundation reveals that one-in-three Australian drivers admit they are more likely to undertake risky behaviour on rural roads.

Having children in the vehicle wasn't a deterrent for risk-taking, with half of rural drivers saying they had exceeded the speed limit, used a mobile phone or driven while distracted.

Tegan and Tim have become road safety ambassadors.
Tegan and Tim have become road safety ambassadors.

"Given what we've gone through, we see what some other drivers do on the road and just think, why?" Tegan said.

"Why are you taking that risk? Why are you cutting that corner? Why are you on your phone? Why are you speeding?

"People need to be aware of what they're doing and what's happening around them."

Olivia would've turned nine on August 19, but her family - including her older brother and little sister, just one, marked the difficult day without her.

"On her actual birthday, we just stayed together as a family at home. It was a day of quiet reflection," Tegan said.

"The day before, we went out with family and some of her really close friends. We went to Build a Bear and everyone made one that reminded them of Olivia, with a little recording of Olivia's voice inside. They have something to keep forever to remind them of Olivia."

The past year has been difficult, she said.

Tegan says her family is still reeling from Olivia's loss.
Tegan says her family is still reeling from Olivia's loss.

Tegan is constantly reminded of the bright, bubbly and compassionate little girl that was taken away from her far too soon.

When speaking about grief, people often talk about the good days and the bad days, but Tegan sees it differently.

"There are days where we cope. There aren't really good days - just days we can manage to get through. There are days where everything is too much and too hard.

"Olivia was beautiful in every way. She was so very innocent. She was very loved in the community as well as by her family. She was a popular young girl but she had a beautiful heart and made sure everyone was always included.

"I would say, please remember that your actions might not just harm you - they have the potential to harm so many others."

Rural Road Safety Month is a community-based awareness initiative that calls on everyday road users to jump in the driver seat of regional road safety.

Backed by the Australian Government and long-time sponsor Suncorp, businesses, community groups and individuals are encouraged to choose road safety and get involved by hosting a local awareness-raising event.