Son’s important warning: ‘My sweet mum was killed over a text’

Eliot is sharing his story to save others

Eliot, 24, from Hamilton, NZ, is urging everyone to put their phones down while driving. Here, he tells the story in his own words.

I grinned as I saw that my mum Paula was calling my phone.

‘Hi love,’ she said when I answered. ‘I’ll be home in a few hours.’

‘Okay, I’ll get dinner ready for then,’ I said.

Mum had been away in Rotorua for a few days as her friend had passed away and she was helping their family.

At 16, I was able to look after myself, but I couldn’t wait to see my lovely mum.

Growing up, it had just been the two of us so we were incredibly close.

Wildly outgoing, Mum was mates with everyone and loved meeting new people.

A few weeks before, she had struck up a conversation with a homeless guy.

‘Come and have a bite to eat with us,’ she’d said, taking him to a cafe and paying for his lunch.

Everyone loved Mum.

Going to the shops, I decided to treat her to dessert and make a chicken salad. Back home, there was a knock at the door.

Mum must have forgotten her keys, I thought, running to let her in.

But when I opened the door, there was a police officer standing there.

‘Are you Eliot?’ he asked.

Replying that I was, he asked, ‘Can I come inside?’

Fear shuddered through my body.

Sitting on a chair opposite me, the cop said, ‘Your mum has been involved in an accident.’

My mind started whirling with the possible scenarios, like was Mum in hospital?

Paula Jesep
Mum was wildly outgoing and fun (Credit: Supplied)

‘She didn’t make it,’ the police officer continued.

It took a few seconds to make sense of his sentence. Then I started screaming and pacing the house.

So distraught, I punched the wall.

I’d only spoken to Mum a few hours ago and now she was dead?

‘I’m sorry Eliot, is there anyone you can call?’ the policeman asked.

I thought of Jan, Mum’s friend, who was like a second mum to me.

Dialling her number, I tried to tell her what had happened, but I couldn’t get my words out.

‘Let me,’ the police officer said, gently taking the phone from my hand and explaining the situation.

Jan was over in minutes.

‘Oh love,’ she said, wrapping her arms around me.

I went back to Jan and her husband Chris’ place for the night.

Waking up early the next morning, I thought it was all a bad dream, but then it hit me again.

Mum’s really gone.

She was only 37.

So numb from the shock, I still hadn’t cried when Jan came into my room.

‘We need to tell your Nana and Papa,’ she said softly.

Still in disbelief that this had happened, Jan drove me to my grandparents, Mum’s parents.

It was only 6am, so when Nana answered the door she immediately asked, ‘What’s happened?’

‘There’s been a car crash, Mum didn’t make it,’ I told her.

Nana instantly broke down in tears while Jan went to collect Papa from work.

Later that day, I was finally able to cry myself.

I was crushed.

Paula and Eliot Jesep
Me as a baby with Mum (Credit: Supplied)

Speaking with the police, Jan found out more information about the crash.

Mum had been driving in her Toyota Rav 4 when she collided with a Nissan Sunny on State Highway 1, north of Tirau.

Three people were travelling in the Nissan car and they were all left injured.

One woman had to be cut out of the vehicle.

Mum had died from severe head injuries.

The police officer who arrived at the scene said that he found Mum’s mobile at the driver’s footwell of the car with a half-written text message on the screen.

I never found out who it was to. But the fact was, Mum had been texting while driving.

I was gutted.

If Mum hadn’t been on her phone, would she still be here? I wondered.

The next few days were a blur of emotions as family and friends arrived.

We held her funeral the day after what should have been her birthday.

We had planned to celebrate by going to the beach, now this.

Around 800 people came to say goodbye to Mum and the church was overflowing.

It felt comforting to know she was so loved.

Eliot Jesep
I want harsher penalties (Credit: Supplied)

I moved in with Jan and Chris who looked after me as I grieved.

A year later, an inquest into the crash found that Mum had sent 19 texts over a 45-minute period leading up to the crash.

While it wasn’t the sole contributor, the fact that she was texting was determined as a factor towards the crash.

I wish Mum hadn’t picked up her phone.

I still miss her every day.

When people say ‘your mum would be so proud’ it sets me off the most.

Currently, NZ law states
that it’s illegal to text while driving.

However, the penalty is just an $80 fine and points on your licence.

I don’t think that’s high enough and I’m urging the government to make penalties harsher to deter people from this practice.

Now I want everyone to know just how dangerous texting and driving is.

A moment of distraction cost my mum her life.

Nothing on your phone is important enough to risk that.

The Australian Law

Using a mobile phone while driving is illegal in Australia, even if you’re stopped at lights or in congested traffic.

This includes:

  • Turning your phone on or off
  • Making and receiving calls or sending and reading text messages
  • Operating any function on your phone — including picking a song, entering a destination or switching to loudspeaker

What you’ll be fined if you text and drive:

SA $534

Vic $484

ACT $470

Qld $400

WA $400

NSW $337

NT $250

Tas $326

Related stories