My best mates left me brain damaged

A quarter of those who lose their lives on Australian roads are aged between 17 and 25. When she got in the car with a friend, Danica was lucky to survive.

Danica Pringle, 20, Cranbourne, Vic

As we drove past the crash scene I held my breath. Would it all come flooding back to me now?

The horror of what happened there chilled me to the bone. But as I looked at the fallen lamppost on the South Gippsland Highway at Cranbourne, I remembered nothing. Had my memory been erased forever?

It was June 5 last year and I’d been at my job as a receptionist when I called my mate Brodie, 19, and asked if he fancied seeing a movie. ‘Sure,’ he agreed.

I’d met Brodie and his friends, Adam, 18, and Sam, 19, a few months earlier. That night Brodie and I went out in his car to see Godzilla at the Lunar Drive-in Theatre at Dandenong. We realised after the movie that Adam and Sam were there too.

‘Hey guys!’ I called from the passenger seat of the silver Ford Falcon Brodie was driving. But after that my memory is a total blank.

What I do remember is waking up in hospital. I recall the pain etched on my dad Scott’s face as he told me I’d been in an induced coma for two-and-a-half weeks. Around the hospital room I saw flowers, cards, teddy bears… What had happened to me?

As a doctor explained my memory loss was caused by post-traumatic amnesia, Dad did his best to fill me in on the terrible drama that unfolded after Brodie and I left the drive-in that night.

‘Adam and Brodie were hooning,’ he told me, explaining that they were driving side by side, trying to out-run each other.

Me before the accident.

“How could they be so stupid?”

Sam was in Adam’s car and I was in Brodie’s. While they stopped at traffic lights, each time the lights turned green the pair accelerated so fast they reached speeds of up to 126kmh in an 80kmh zone.

How could they be so stupid? I thought, but when I tried to speak, the words wouldn’t come out. What had I been thinking as I sat there in the passenger seat? I wondered. Had I been screaming for Brodie to stop?

Then it happened. After nine kilometres, Adam’s blue Holden Commodore crashed into a lamppost and Brodie’s car had smashed right into them. While Adam, Brodie and Sam managed to get out, I was trapped in the wreckage.

I apparently screamed for help as both cars caught on fire, but I don’t remember it.

By the time the emergency services had arrived, I’d passed out from the heat and smoke. Firies cut me from the mangled metal and I was airlifted to The Alfred Hospital by helicopter.

I’d stayed there in intensive care ever since. My injuries were devastating. I had a fractured skull, brain damage, a fractured eye socket and wrist, a broken left arm…

My left ear had also been burned off, and third-degree burns covered 11 per cent of my body – from the left side of my head and face, down to my shoulder and arm.

My brain injury had caused nerve palsy on the whole left side of my body, weakening the muscles so I couldn’t control my movements. Did my friends really cause this? I asked myself.

As Dad showed me a news report from the crash scene, I realised it was true. Poor Sam had also been badly injured, while Adam suffered minor injuries and Brodie was unharmed. It was lucky we’d all survived.

The days passed and I was gradually able to speak a little, but it felt like a nightmare. For the next three months I remained in hospital, before heading to rehab, where I began to relearn basic skills. There, I cried every day – feeling isolated and alone.

Outside after the accident.

Finally, in September, I was well enough to go home. It was then I learnt Brodie and Adam had been charged in relation to the crash. I was told they’d wanted to visit me but bail conditions meant they couldn’t.

In November 2014, Adam West, 18, and Brodie McGregor, 19, appeared in court, where they pleaded guilty to two counts of negligent driving causing serious injury.

Adam told the court he and Brodie had been ‘egging each other on’ that night but that they hadn’t been drag racing. Listening, I felt so torn.

These were my friends and one moment of stupidity had cost us all so much. A month later, at Victoria County Court, Brodie and Adam were each sentenced to three years in detention.

Watching my friends being given a custodial sentence, I cried.

I feel certain they didn’t mean to hurt me that day. But their carelessness put everyone in danger, and the judge said it was important to send a message to young male drivers that they had a responsibility to do the right thing.

Since then Brodie has asked if he can contact me and I’ve agreed. It’s important to me that I forgive him and Adam.

My injuries are healing, but my memory has not returned. I still see my psychologist, speech therapist, occupational therapist, and physio regularly, and Mum helps by massaging my burned skin for two hours each day.

My life has changed forever. I’ve lost the desire to go out with groups of friends, and getting into a car fills me with fear. I’m focused on returning to uni next year and it pains me that Brodie and Adam will be locked up.

I’m sharing my story because I want others to think before they act carelessly on the roads. There’s a high price to pay for speeding. I know that only too well.

Danger behind the wheel

-Research shows that teenage drivers are at a higher risk of fatally crashing than any other age group.

-Forty-five per cent of all young Australian injury deaths are due to road traffic crashes.

-Young drivers aged 17-25 represent one-quarter of all Australian road deaths, but only 10-15 per cent of the licensed driver population.

-The biggest killer of young drivers is speeding, and around 80 per cent of those killed are male.

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