She was dressed head to toe in my clothes.
‘Thanks for asking!’ I teased.
There was five years between us, and while we sometimes fought, we were close as could be.
By Christmas 2017, I’d moved out of home – but I was only 10 minutes down the road from Makayla, 18, and our parents, Laurie, 55, and Karin, 56.
At their place, Makayla and I sat by the tree and doled out the gifts.
We were going to Mum’s younger sister Leonie’s for lunch, so afterwards we packed the car with pressies for the rest of the family.
Around 10.45am, I hopped into the driver’s seat.
Dad was next to me up front, and Mum and Makayla slid into the back.
It was only a 35-minute drive to Aunty Leonie’s, and Dad and Makayla dozed.
‘We’re making good time,’ Mum said, once we’d crossed the Gateway Bridge.
We’d be at Aunty Leonie’s in less than 10 minutes.
Just then, I saw a tree flying through the air.
What the?! I thought.
Gripping the steering wheel, I didn’t even have time to slam my foot on the brake before BAM! – a black car slammed head-on into us.
The impact jolted me forward violently, and the airbags inflated instantly.
Dad was clearly in pain, but he was alive.
‘Mum?’ I called.
‘Mmmm,’ she mumbled.
It looked like Makayla was asleep.
Taking her hand, I shook it, trying to wake her up.
We needed help – and fast.
Calling Triple-0, I tried to get out but my door was jammed, so an older couple wrenched it open from the outside.
‘She doesn’t have a pulse,’ I heard someone say about Makayla.
Suddenly, my vision went black, and the older couple had to help me lie down on the ground.
Sirens wailed as emergency services arrived. We should’ve just been arriving at Christmas lunch.
Instead, paramedics were now giving Makayla CPR.
They’ll get her heart going, I told myself.
Bundled into an ambulance by myself, I was raced to Emergency and rushed straight into surgery to repair my collapsed lungs.
When I woke up my bed was wheeled into Dad’s room.
‘Makayla didn’t make it,’ a nurse told us, gently.
Her aorta had been severed, killing her instantly.
My sweet baby sister had her entire life ahead of her…
Holding hands, Dad and I sobbed.
Mum had been taken to another hospital with internal injuries and a broken back and neck.
By 11.30pm, we still hadn’t heard how Mum was doing, so her sisters Leonie and Tracy went to find out.
Falling into a fitful, broken sleep, we were woken up at 4am.
‘She’s gone,’ my aunties said, tearfully.
‘No…’ I sobbed.
Horrifyingly, we found out that the other driver was in the same hospital as us, also with serious injuries.
On Boxing Day, he was charged with dangerous driving causing death and grievous bodily harm.
A still-warm ice pipe for smoking methampethamine – or ice – was found on his passenger seat.
Why was he still alive, when Mum and Makayla weren’t?
It was so unfair.
Dad suffered a chipped sternum and a perforated bowel, while I also needed a screw in my broken ankle.
After 10 days in hospital, and multiple surgeries, we were allowed to go home.
Soon after, we released two doves at Mum and Makayla’s funeral.
They’re really gone… I realised, the tragedy sinking in.
A year passed, and that Christmas, there was nothing to celebrate – it marked 12 heartbreaking months without Mum and Makayla.
Seven months later, this July, Mark Jason Veneris, 48, appeared at Brisbane District Court and pleaded guilty to both charges. Witnesses saw Veneris driving erratically at speeds of up to 100km per hour in a 70 zone.
He was drunk and had ice in his system when he lost control, hit a tree, jumped a traffic island and collided head-on with our car.
Judge Paul Smith accepted that Veneris had been smoking ice while driving.
‘On Christmas Day, all I could think about was the other family and I spent the whole day in my cell crying,’ Veneris, a father of one, told the court. ‘I wish I had never gotten in the car that day.’
He was sentenced to seven years in jail, but due to time served, he’ll be eligible for parole in July 2021.
Two lives mean nothing, I thought, disgusted.
At least he’d lost his licence indefinitely.
When I found out Veneris had appealed the length of his sentence, saying it was too harsh, I began a change.org petition pleading with Attorney General Yvette D’Ath to increase the time he’d spend behind bars.
So now I’m calling for tougher punishments for those who choose to drink or drug drive.
This tragedy has brought Dad and me closer, but we miss Mum and Makayla every day – and we won’t stop fighting for justice. ●
Sign Tarmeka’s petition here.