REAL LIFE

She texted ‘oops’ then killed my girl

A stranger's appalling decision shattered Megan's world forever.
that's life!

Megan Helms, 51, Hoppers Crossing, Vic

As my daughter leant down to give me a kiss, I had to laugh. With her heels on, Casey, 24, towered above me. ‘Have a good time,’ I told her. ‘Be careful.’

Casey was heading out to spend the evening with a friend. As she walked away she turned to me one last time. ‘Mum, does my bum look big in this skirt?’ she asked.

‘You’ve got to be kidding! Get out of here!’ I waved.

Casey was gorgeous with a perfect size-six figure, but it was just like her to be modest. If only she’d known what a beautiful soul she was…

It was in December 2012 the night she’d gone out, and Casey was the happiest she had been in years. As a middle sister to my two other daughters, Andrea, now 29, and Jamie, 24, Casey had been rebellious in her teens.

But becoming a doting mum to Annabelle, then 22 months old, she was flourishing. Casey had split with Annabelle’s dad and the two of them had come home to live with me. Things were going well. I loved hearing Casey teach her toddler to sing – even though she could barely talk – and I’d been helping Casey prepare for a job interview for the next week.

That weekend, Annabelle was with her dad, so Casey was able to let down her hair on Friday night. I’d come home to find her heading to the local pub in Werribee with Melissa, 23, her best mate. It was something she’d done before. But this time, things were different.

When I went to sleep, Casey wasn’t home. I wasn’t worried – she stayed out late sometimes. It was only the next morning, after my partner Nigel, 49, answered the door, that I realised something was wrong. His face was pale with shock and I knew something terrible had happened.

Me with Annabelle. (Credit: that’s life!)

Heading into the lounge room, I saw the police were in my house. My ex-husband Bill, 60, and his partner were there too. As Bill broke down in tears I knew one of my daughters was gone. ‘Which one?’ I cried.

‘Casey,’ the officer replied, explaining she was one of four people killed in a car crash that morning. I found myself sprinting into Jamie’s room. I hadn’t heard her come in the night before either. Could she have been in the car too?

But she was lying in bed and as she looked up at me I realised I was about to shatter her world. ‘Casey’s died,’ I managed.

‘No,’ Jamie screamed. ‘It’s not real!’

In the days and weeks that followed, our house was filled with grief. Annabelle knew something was wrong, but how do you tell a toddler her mum is gone?

Soon, we got more information about what had happened that fateful night. It turned out that Casey and Melissa had met some friends in Werribee. They’d all decided to go to a club in Geelong and then get a kebab. One of the friends, Scott, was driving the Subaru back along the Princes Highway when it happened. A BMW driving on the wrong side of the road had ploughed head-on into them.

Casey had been sitting in the front passenger seat. She had taken the full impact and died instantly. Her bestie, Melissa, and two other friends, Nathan, 23, and Bradley, 23, who’d been sitting in the back seat were also killed – as was the driver of the BMW.

Scott, who was well within the blood alcohol limit, and another passenger in the Subaru, Nick, were the only two to survive. What a senseless waste, I thought. Over 600 people farewelled Casey at the local chapel. She’d touched so many lives. But I couldn’t get the crash out of my mind. Why was a car on the wrong side of the road?

Melissa Parry and my Casey were both killed. (Credit: that’s life!)

It was only at the inquest in February 2015 that the full, shocking truth came out. Coroner Ann McGarvie explained that the driver of the BMW was 32-year-old mum of two Sarah Dale, who was also known as Sarah Houlihan.

Earlier in the evening Sarah had been drinking with her boyfriend. After he went to bed, she texted a friend of hers, James, who lived in Queenscliff. At 11.03pm, she messaged him to say, I’m diu. Oops. Then a minute later, drunk.

Just over an hour later, she made the fateful decision to get into her car and drive with a blood alcohol level of 0.21 – more than four times the legal limit. A speed camera clocked her doing 160kph while also texting at the wheel.

Entering at an exit ramp, Sarah drove 30km down the Princes Highway on the wrong side of the road. That’s when she hit the Subaru carrying Casey and her friends. They never stood a chance. The coroner found Sarah to be responsible for the crash.

I was horrified to discover she had two previous drink driving convictions dating back to 1999 and 2001 .She had been seeing a psychologist since 2010 for a major depressive disorder, alcohol abuse and anxiety. If Sarah hadn’t made the decision to get behind the wheel that night, five lives wouldn’t have been lost.

It feels like the light has gone out in my life. Each day I go through the motions, but nothing’s the same. Annabelle is now four and she’s only just grasping that her mummy’s never coming back. Every day she does something new and it is shattering that Casey isn’t here to smile proudly.

I’ve given up work and I’m trying to raise Annabelle in a way that Casey would have wanted. Seeing my grandchild sing and dance just like her mum used to is bittersweet. This year I’m planning to lobby the government to have alcohol ignition interlock systems mandatory in cars. It’s a system that is connected to the ignition, disabling it from starting if the driver has been drinking any alcohol.

If Sarah had one in her car that night, it would have been impossible for her to get behind the wheel. But then, if she’d simply made the decision not to drink then drive, I’d still have Casey with me today. And a little girl wouldn’t have lost her mum.

How heartbreaking is that?

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