Crash victim’s torture: Every day is a nightmare
Tahlia Mardini leads a tortured existence surrounded by photographs of her dead best friend to remind her how wonderful life once was.
The 19-year-old has taken a TAFE course in makeup artistry to hide the scars from 25 surgeries to reconstruct her head and neck after a horrific car crash in Yagoona, minutes into the new year on January 1, 2018.
While she is profoundly grateful for her miraculous survival and loving family, Tahlia is heartbreakingly honest about the misery she has endured since waking from a coma and being told her best friend Tegan Galea-Elson died weeks earlier at the scene.
"I can't begin to explain how shit it is to wake up one day and be told you survived but your best friend didn't," she said. "The guilt is indescribable."
Driver Yassin El Seidi was earlier this year sentenced to five years in prison but he has not apologised to Tahlia.
El Seidi was on a cocktail of prescription drugs tramadol and diazepam when he offered to give the girls, then aged 16 and 17, a lift from one New Year's Eve party in Punchbowl to another in Chester Hill.
El Seidi was weaving through traffic at dangerous speed before he ploughed into the back of a parked ute with such sickening force the ute was driven into a power pole 10 metres down the road - and bent it.
Tahlia has shared her story for the first time in the hope people, especially teenagers, will fully comprehend the traumatic consequences of speeding.
She will feature in a new Transport for NSW safety campaign launched today.
"The harshest reality is your fake friends run off because they never really cared about you in the first place," she said.
"Friends came to visit me in hospital just so they could have a geez and tell everyone: 'Tahlia's face is f … ed up', 'Tahlia has no eye', 'Tahlia has no teeth' and all the rest of it.
"I miss being treated normal like everyone else my age. I am looked down upon by so many people.
"I know Tegan would have stuck by my side. She was and always will be my best friend."
Tahlia has Tegan's photo as her phone background.
The pair were inseparable since meeting on the first day of Year 9 at Sylvania High School in 2015. They loved to party and meet new people.
These days Tahlia is home before dark every night so she does not trigger her parents' flashbacks of the night of the crash.
Tahlia is open to making new friends but admits she is searching in vain for someone just like Tegan.
Short-term memory loss, fatigue, mood swings and trouble concentrating are all lasting effects of her brain injury, which make it unlikely she will ever resume her work in real estate and banking.
Instead, Tahlia has enrolled in a Certificate IV in community service "to do good in this world".
Since her crash, more than 2290 people have suffered serious injuries on NSW roads.
SPEEDING STILL KILLS AS ROAD TOLL FALLS
More people have this year died from crashes involving speeding or not wearing seatbelts than last year, even though COVID-19 has kept the total road toll down.
Official statistics up to and including December 23 show road crashes had claimed the lives of 292 people in NSW.
Since then, Nicholas Hoenselaars, 18, was killed in a police chase on Christmas Eve at Leppington in Sydney's southwest.
There have been 54 fewer road deaths on NSW roads this year, which experts attribute to fewer people on the roads at the height of the pandemic.
However, 48 per cent - 139 - of all fatalities on the road this year have involved excessive speed, which is 15 more speed-related deaths than last year.
There had been 34 road deaths where the driver or passenger did not buckle up when the statistics were last updated at the end of November. That is nine more than the same period in 2019.
"Speeding - either driving above the speed limit or too fast for conditions - is the single biggest contributor to road death and injuries," Transport for NSW Deputy Secretary for Safety, Environment and Regulation Tara McCarthy said.
"Just a bit over can be the difference between being able to stop in time or not at all. Just 5km/h over a 60km/h limit doubles the risk of a crash.
"Any extra speed means extra impact force - and the human body can only tolerate so much before death or serious injury is all but inevitable.
"There are no excuses. Slow down and stay below the speed limit, and always drive to the conditions."
Double demerits are in force this Christmas and New Year period until Sunday, January 3, for all speeding, seatbelt, mobile phone and motorcycle helmet offences.
NSW Police officers have been told to target the "four Ds", which are drink, drug, dangerous and distracted driving.
Originally published as Crash victim's torture: Every day is a nightmare