Delivering My Victim Impact Statement, September 2016

A turning point

My first act of road safety activism — delivering my self-styled Victim Impact Statement to Tweed Shire Council, the municipal road authority responsible for the road where Karl died — was a revelation. It was the first real turning point in my healing. Until that moment (more than seven months after Karl’s death), I felt utterly washed-up professionally and intellectually, confident I would never again chair a meeting, speak publicly, write or work professionally. I collaborated with two friends, Lori Mooren and Kev Cracknell, and, as our road safety campaign expanded and we started to see results, I began to imagine that I might flourish again.

I firmly believed that I had survived for a reason.

So how could I move forward in my life with a cognitive impairment that made me feel incompetent, hopeless, and directionless?

New power

Now I sensed a power that drew on the initiative, energy, and resourcefulness I feared I had lost forever. Because I was undertaking my new advocacy work with close friends (“in community”), I experienced an alliance based on cooperation and a shared purpose. With Lori and Kev, I gained a sense of connection that was deeper than we had before; it brought out the best in all three of us. And I was getting my hands dirty with the emotions that frightened me.

My two friends and I worked together to raise awareness about the design, management, and condition of the rural road where Karl died and to lobby for road planning and funding to repair it. Later, we lobbied for better road planning generally: a more sophisticated and up-to-date “safe systems” approach. Initially, as we considered our activist options, our collective emotions were a bewildering mix of guilt, despair, confusion, anger, frustration, powerlessness, sadness, and a desire for justice: an outcome that would help others and save lives.

Although we did not know it when we began our organic process, we were well equipped to do this work (with a history of community activism and advocacy, emergency services experience, knowledge of road planning, design, management and safety, community engagement and empowerment, and municipal governance and planning). We had complementary skills: a balance of professional, on-the-ground experience, and academic knowledge. We were naturally a good team. The experience was powerfully healing for me because it was easier for me to speak out in the company of friends than in my lonely, mourning voice.

Delivering my Victim Impact Statement helped build my competence and confidence. Soon our “small wins” buoyed us up. We were careful not to be tied to the notion of results. So, for example, we did not despair when the Coroner refused my request for a coronial inquest. He chose to believe what the Council told him about road changes following Karl’s death. We believed that our inquiries had at least heightened the Coroner’s awareness of some critical system-wide road safety and monitoring issues in the Tweed Shire.

You can read a copy of the Statement here:

 Wendy Sarkissian Victim Impact Statement_FINAL

The humour we experienced in our encounters also healed us; often we found ourselves laughing through our tears. Now we feel empowered and emboldened. The quality I missed the most — my courage — slowly began to return.

More tragedy

Amazingly, just six days after our meeting, another car plummeted into the river, landing upside-down. That driver survived because that part of the river was shallow at that time.

See: http://www.tweedvalleyweekly.net.au/car-crashes-tweed-river/

Then, a week later, on 7 October 2016, a crash between a car and a motorcycle on Kyogle Road not far from that same spot claimed the life of the motorcyclist: a 43-year-old man.

https://www.northernstar.com.au/news/collison-between-car-and-motorbike-leaves-one-in-h/3098613/

That made a total of four fatalities on the same corner in 20 months.

 

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