Heart-wrenching moment mum knew her girl was gone
AS Tegan Mitchell ran towards the horrific car accident her young daughter, Olivia, was a passenger in, the silence was deafening.
"Running to it I thought she would be fine, I thought she'd have a broken limb, she'd be OK, we'll just have to go to the hospital. She was always the dramatic one, even if it was a broken limb or leg or something like that I knew we were going to hear about it," Ms Mitchell said.
"I didn't hear anything. I look back now and I should have known, it's because I didn't hear anything.
"If she was alive still, she would have definitely been screaming, telling everyone."
Her family is consumed by it now. It's everywhere, the laughter of a little girl, the music blaring from her room where she danced with her baby sister, the constant chatter only young kids can deliver. Silenced forever.
It was the worst day of her life - for her family - but Ms Mitchell is talking about it in the hope that today, on Fatality Free Friday, when you get behind the wheel of your car, you think about what you're doing, the risk and consequences of your actions.
THE WORST DAY OF MY LIFE
IT was a heart-sinking moment, looking over her shoulder and realising the car carrying her daughter Olivia Douglas was no longer following them.
The bubbly, full of life and love eight-year-old girl was travelling to a netball carnival with her family from the Gold Coast to Bundaberg on September 14, 2018, when they'd pulled over for a break and little Liv asked Mum if she could jump in the car with her friend.
Olivia jumped in the car being driven by her former colleague at Oxenford State School.
"We had a stop, did the right thing, pulled over for a break," Mrs Mitchell said. "Olivia asked if she could go in the other car with the coach, 'cause she wanted to watch a movie with her friend.
"I remember having this feeling in my stomach, but I thought 'no, no, don't be over protective, she can go, she can have some fun'.
"She hopped in the vehicle and that was the last time we saw her alive."
About an hour later, at 1pm, tragedy struck.
"Tim (Olivia's stepdad) was alerted to it first because he was driving our car in front and they were following behind.
"He said something has happened and I turned and that's when I realised there was no other car behind us. I was screaming for him to turn the car around.
"We left our son in the car with our one-year-old and asked him to wait there for a minute while we go check if she was OK."
Ms Mitchell remembers what happened next with haunting clarity: "Tim climbed on to the car and tried to grab Liv. There was 10 to 15 people who had got out of their car to help. I remember looking over to the man in the other vehicle who was coming in the opposite direction and seeing his car just squashed around his body.
"I remember saying to another lady who stood near me, 'has someone checked on him, is he OK?' I still didn't know at that point that Liv wasn't. She told me he was already gone.
"Then it was a matter of trying to get her out, people were trying to pull all different things.
"I started panicking, we couldn't get the car door up, so we went to the back of the ute, pulled everything out and went through the back window.
"She was finally released from her seatbelt and there was a gentleman. I've never met him again, but I'm so thankful for what he did. He wasn't a first responder, he was just a man on his way to do something and he stopped to help.
"He had her in his arms and I could see that she was either really badly injured or that she was gone. He just held her so carefully, as best he could. He wouldn't let anyone else touch her, because he didn't want any more harm to come to her and he laid her down gently."
An off-duty nurse and paramedic were on scene and tried to help Olivia.
"They said she didn't have a pulse. It felt like forever for an ambulance to get there. They kept telling me things like 'she's going to be all right, she's going to go in the helicopter, it's coming for her'.
"Then they started doing the shocks. They didn't work, there was no heartbeat. They did the adrenaline into her twice and that didn't work either. I was on another lady's phone and I was talking to my mum because she was already up at the carnival we were going to. So was one of my sisters. I looked over and they pulled a blanket over her head.
"I just fell to the ground. It didn't feel real, it shouldn't have been happening."
Ms Mitchell went and laid with her daughter on the side of the highway.
"I sat with her for quite some time, I think it was around four hours that we were there.
"The first responders, the police, the fire safety people, everyone that comes, the amount of support they give and what they must see on a daily basis, I couldn't do it.
"They stood there and held that school tent over her, while I lied there or sat with her. My family came to the site as well, so they all sat with her too. Everything else stood still, they sent cars elsewhere so we could be with her and have that time with her.
"They were so gracious and kind during such a horrible time.
"We're forever thankful for what they did that day.
"One of the hardest things at that time was watching two helicopters come, that were for my daughter, and instead one of the two people who went in the helicopter was the person who killed her. That was really difficult.
"It was difficult to drive away knowing that you were leaving someone who has been a part of you. That was hard to drive away and entrust her with someone else."
THE HOLE LEFT BY HER ABSENCE
The little girl, who brought so much joy into the family, is dearly missed by her older brother Noah and her little sister Lexie. The grief in the eyes of her mum and dad is painfully evident.
"Silence, Liv was a chatterbox, she talked all the time. It was getting her to shut up some times, telling her to go talk to her brother. Moments like that," Ms Mitchell said.
"The silence is different, the little things you miss as a mum - when I finally went home and did her last load of washing, put her bag away in her room, trying to unpack that.
"It's the little things like doing her hair in the morning to get ready for school, the nagging mum things like telling her to do her chores - things that's just not there for."
The ripple effect of loss is significant, an unimaginable amount of grief that could never be filled.
"Our son, he wouldn't even sleep on his own. He slept in our room for months and months and months.
"He suffers, he doesn't know his place. He can't go in his bathroom, because that was the one they shared together. Him and her used to come up with games together. You know all brothers and sisters have their disagreements and they don't get along at times, but they got along really well.
"They always had the best imaginations, creating ninja warrior courses outside. It was amazing. Even going up to the netball carnival, she took her activewear, because she was going to tell Noah how to play netball, because she had been playing for a couple of years.
The little girl full of life, who had drawn up plans for the home her and her friends were going to live in, the kind of dream only a child could imagine.
"She was full of life and full of personality. She was a planner and that's something we're thankful for now too.
"She has all these little books and diaries that she had drawn in, her and a couple of her friends were all going to build a house together and all have different jobs, so she had drawn the house and all their bedrooms in it.
"It's those relationships that are gone, us and our family, but also the friends, they struggle as well. We keep in contact with a lot of the parents and they tell us about their little ones and the struggles they're going through."
Trying to explain death to a toddler, that her sister won't be coming home, an impossible task for a family that miss the dancing footsteps in a young girl's bedroom.
"We talk about Liv all the time. We have a video of Liv dancing in her room with Lexie, our youngest, she used to love to dance.
"She had a CD player. Lexie, whenever she goes into Liv's room, she doesn't get to go in there too often, she goes to the CD player and she points to it and says 'we need to dance'. I don't know if that's her actually remembering it or if she just likes to dance as well.
"I go in and say goodnight to Liv every night. Lexie will come with me and blows her a kiss and says goodnight.
"We always talk about her so she knows, but she always says that when Livie comes over, we're going to do this or that. That's the hard thing that we can't explain to her yet, that she's not going to come. Liv was over the moon to know that we were having Lexie, she so wanted a sister. That's hard."
LIV, LOVE, LAUGH
The family want to do something to honour Olivia's memory, to make sure no other parent has to suffer the unimaginable grief they are dealing with.
"One of Olivia's favourite sayings was 'Live, Laugh, Love', and we have taken hold of that a little bit. With the 'live' part, we took off the 'e' and had Liv, because we want people to know her story.
"The 'laugh' is the laughter you hear in your children in the back seat or the people that are around and you'd love to keep that happening, to think I'm responsible for these people while I'm on the road.
"Then the 'love' of your family and having those memories, let's make it happy and positive and not have to stop. We took that little saying and use it in a road safety way and hopefully people can take that on board. It's not just about you, it's everything around you, the kids in the back seat, the drivers around you, be safe for everyone."
Ms Mitchell said it's still hard to reconcile with the death of 52-year-old Shane Old, who was killed when the car her daughter was in veered into his path.
Ms Mitchell never saw herself as a campaigner, an activist, but sometimes you're thrust into these things.
"I think you don't want to say to people that it's going to happen to you, because you wouldn't wish that on anyone, but at the same time, the difficult thing is, Livie was innocent in this and she was killed, by a lady who fell asleep.
"We look at it and think it's not just your actions sometimes, you've got to be aware of your surroundings, because you just don't know when someone else's actions are going to impact you.
"Yes, it's important we be road safe, but we need everyone to take that understanding on board - not just a few, everyone. Hopefully there will be a time when we're not seeing fatalities as often, it would be great to not have them at all. Families shouldn't be losing their children.
"To hear the statistic that road trauma is the biggest killer of two to 14-year-olds, they haven't even had a chance to have a future. It's not fair that their lives are taken due to someone else's actions. It's about making everyone aware that your actions do have an impact.
When the family returned to the scene of that horrible day, they couldn't comprehend how this happened.
"We put a cross down about two months afterwards. We did that stretch of road again, because in our minds we had imagined that it was this horrible stretch that it was really windy, or just straight, a boring stretch of road that would force the driver to fall asleep.
"We did it and it wasn't. There was a service station just around the corner, there was rest and pause stop places. There was so many opportunities to pull over.
"That's one of the things we want to encourage people to do, it's not worth it, it's not worth it to keep going. Just pull over. There's places to rest. We were so angry. This could have been prevented, she could still be with us and our family.
"We're heartbroken that someone would continue, someone that also knew her quite well, that they would continue to drive, knowing they're not well, that they were tired, and yet continued.
"How do you teach people now to stop? You got to know your symptoms, know the signs yourself, you need to say no, you've got to pull over.
"The lady in the car behind her likened it to that she had just gone to turn a corner at 100km/h, that's how fast the car turned. Our daughter didn't stand a chance because she had no airbags. She took the brunt of it."
The driver of the car, Leona Pauline Paraha, walked from court last year, sentenced to five months' imprisonment wholly suspended, with an operational period of two years and disqualified from holding or obtaining a licence for 12 months.
Ms Mitchell says if telling her painful story can save a little one's life, she'll do it as many times as it takes.
"We never want another family to have to go through what we've gone through.
"No one should have to lose their child because of some stupidity on the road.
"Olivia wasn't sick, there was nothing wrong with her. She was beautiful in every way. She was perfect in every way, I know all parents say that about their kids, but she really was. There wasn't a mean bone in her body."
Ms Mitchell wants you to hear her story, to hear about her daughter, to know the pain her family feels, so that when you get behind the wheel, you think about little Liv.
She won't be silenced.
Originally published as Heart-wrenching moment mum knew her girl was gone