A feature story for The Weekend Australian Magazine, May 2015

Driver fatigue, road deaths and the ripple effects of a tragic accident.


Darryl Searle lives up a silent country road east of Gympie, over a weedy creek and across the road from a dog named Tony.
His garden path is lined with fruit trees, ferns, orchids and hanging potplants. I spot him in his yard and he walks slowly to meet me in a ­battered white singlet. I tell him who I am but I sense he already knows. “I wrote you a letter,” I say. “Did you get it?”
Darryl shuffles uncomfortably, his eyes darting around the property as if searching for a way to escape the wide open space, the eavesdropping birds, my dreaded presence. His gaze settles on a recently renovated caravan, set on high ground, ready for departure. “Y-es,” he replies, pronouncing the word as two syllables. “I got it. But … it’s … look.” He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a packet of tobacco, turns it in his hand and runs his ­fingers along the shiny ­plastic flap. It seems to calm him; gives him time to think. “Look, I’m not …” He pauses and starts again. “I’m sorry. I can’t go back there.”

January 17, 2002. Donald and Lynn Lawson were driving south along the Bruce Highway, heading for Mooloolaba on the Sunshine Coast, when the white Toyota Camry in front suddenly exploded. Debris filled the windscreen. They swerved, stopped the car and ran to help. The Camry had spun 180 degrees and come to rest on buckled wheels, its front caved in, the ­bonnet screwed up like a piece of waste paper. Near the Camry, in a ditch, was another car, a white Mazda station wagon, its entire front half crumpled. The two cars, each travelling at about 100km/h, had collided head-on. There were four people in the Camry. The front ­passenger, a man in his 70s, was dead, the other three seriously injured. The two occupants of the Mazda were both dead. The family of the deceased man in the Camry was notified that afternoon. I was at home in Kiama, south of Wollongong, when I was told the news. He was my grandfather, John French…

read the full story here