On 9th November 2004 our 18 year old son, Dominic, died following a car crash in which he was a back seat passenger. The driver of the car was subsequently convicted of causing Dominic's death by dangerous driving and was sentenced to two and a half years in a young offenders' institution.
The car crash took place at 21:50 on 8th November 2004. Dom had gone out with a friend who he had not seen for seven years and who he had met by chance the previous week. I was away from home, in Merseyside, as my dad had died three weeks previously and my mum and I had gone back to their house to sort out her affairs. At twenty minutes past midnight the telephone rang. I can't explain this now but I immediately knew something terrible had happened. It was my husband ringing to tell me that Dominic was in hospital in Coventry and that the sister in charge there had advised that I get to the hospital as soon as possible. Police officers from the local force were there with my husband and escorted the ambulance that transferred Dom to the Intensive Care Unit at another hospital. All we knew at this stage was that Dominic had been in a car crash and was seriously injured.
The police force, in my parent's hometown, sent a police driver to take me to the hospital, whilst another police officer went to my brother's house to arrange for him to come and stay with my mum. At the time I was just reacting like a robot and accepted that this was all happening. The officer who drove me down to Coventry talked throughout the whole journey and I remember thinking at one stage, 'Just shut up and let me think about what is happening.' I now realise that this kept me calm and carried me through those few hours. When we got to the junction before our exit junction on the M6 we had to come off the motorway, as a Father's for Justice campaigner was threatening to throw himself off the motorway bridge. I wonder if he will ever know how close he came to stopping me getting to the hospital before Dom died?
We finally arrived at about 04:30 just as Dom arrived in the ambulance from the first hospital. I couldn't imagine what had taken them so long but he was so severely injured that they had had to be very careful with him and he had struggled to keep breathing. How can I ever adequately thank the police officers who got me to the hospital? Without their support I know I would not have been with Dom to hold his hand and tell him how much I loved him and how proud I was of him. It enabled me to be with him when he died. I truly believe that he hung on for me, that he knew that I was there and, in my darkest moments, this gives me much consolation.
We were taken to the relatives' room on the ICU and I could hear this erratic beeping and lots of activity. I knew it was Dom. I remember going to the ladies room and, looking in the mirror, realised that I had been crying constantly since I'd arrived. We had several medical personnel come in to talk to us. A neurosurgeon explained that he wanted to put a pin or something into Dom's brain as it had twisted on the stem, another surgeon talked about his lungs, people were in and out but it seemed like we were waiting forever. Eventually the Head of the ICU came in and sat down beside us. I asked him what Dom's long term future held and he just said, 'Mrs Storey, we are fighting to stop Dominic from dying rather than fighting to keep him alive.' He had a strange look on his face that I thought was annoyance at my stupidity. In fact it was sheer frustration that despite all their efforts they couldn't save Dom.
At 05:30 we were able to sit with Dom and, for me, this was the first time I had seen him since the crash. He looked beautiful and so young, because his face was swollen and it gave him that chubby look that toddlers have.
Whilst we were with Dominic, police officers had collected my twelve year old daughter and our friends, who were looking after her, and were bringing her to the hospital. Dom started to fail again and the decision was made to remove the artificial aids that were keeping him alive. He died at 06:30 before our daughter arrived. I will never, as long as I live, forget the look on her face when I told her Dom had died.
In amongst all of this I remember being really aware that I was facing the greatest challenge of my life - to carry on knowing Dom had died.
We arrived home at 10:30 and began the awful process of letting our families know what had happened. It still makes me cry remembering my oldest brother breaking down on the phone when he heard my voice. Our friends stayed with us until late afternoon and my husband fell sleep on the sofa through sheer exhaustion. My broken heart nearly gave up completely when I came into the room to find my lovely, young daughter covering him up with a blanket like she was his mother.
The only information we had at this time was that Dom had been thrown out of the car and was, eventually, found in a field. Throughout that first night this absolutely haunted me. Was he conscious and frightened? Was he crying for us? Was he in pain with no one to help him? I worried that his spirit wouldn't be able to find us so my husband suggested lighting a candle like sailors' families used to do when they were at sea. We did this and, three years later, we have lit a candle every night for him at home.
The next day the Senior Investigating Officer from Traffic came to see us. He clarified all the factual details, went through the further work that they would be carrying out and explained that we had been assigned a Family Liaison Officer. He gave us the Brake Bereavement Guide which was invaluable to me. I don't have a clear memory of the visit, as shock was the only thing keeping us standing. However, we learnt that Tom, the driver of the car, had lost control of the car whilst overtaking another car just before a blind bend, had hit a tree stump, and overturned, at which point Dominic was thrown out of the car. We also found out that Dom had in fact landed on the road, a local resident was with him within minutes, an off-duty police officer had administered first aid and was also with him until the paramedics arrived and that he had been unconscious throughout. It may sound strange but the sense of peace this gave me was huge as I now knew that Dom wasn't alone and afraid and in pain. To know that someone was with him, talking to him and looking after him, cradling his head and holding his hand was of the utmost comfort to me.
We visited the scene of the crash that evening and were greeted by flowers and poems, letters, candles and cards. The following days were filled with a combination of shock, absolute sorrow and love. The outpouring of grief and support from everyone who knew Dom was staggering. Perhaps the saddest thing of all about his death is that, apart from the odd bad day, Dominic loved and enjoyed life so very much. He was cheerful, always smiling and he took enjoyment from the simplest of things. Dom had obviously captured the hearts of so many and touched the lives of more people than we had ever imagined. His funeral and the cards and letters we received at that time, and subsequently, bear testament to this. Flowers and letters were sent from shops and businesses in our town, from his old secondary school along with many letters from teachers and pupils alike, from his old primary schools, one of which he left aged 7. All reinforced the message that despite his devilment he was a lovely boy who would never be forgotten.
We were appointed a Family Liaison Officer who helped us enormously during that first two weeks. She listened to us, was honest and compassionate in her dealings with us and quietly directed us to do and think about things that we would not have been able to cope with or considered ourselves. As a result we visited the crash scene and she walked us through events and explained everything that she could, we planted daffodil bulbs at the point alongside where Dom was found, and she liaised with and gave us the contact details of the off-duty policeman and the local resident who were with Dom at the scene.
Another significant area that the FLO supported us in was in relation to the media. I would have spoken to every newspaper and journalist I could have but I am so glad that I was advised to wait and let the police interact with them. Given the little information we had at the time about the cause of the crash I would have given a view that I would have later regretted as I just had not considered the fact that the driver was to blame.
After the first few weeks contact with the FLO and the police became less as the driver was recovering from his injuries and was not fit for interview. However, we were steadily introduced to the fact that the driver was the cause of the crash and thereby responsible for killing Dominic. By the time it was determined that he would be charged and a prosecution would take place we were resigned that a court case would take place.
During this time we struggled to find our way in a world that seemed so alien without Dominic in it, and we were constantly having to re-evaluate how to take our place as individuals and how to be a family unit without him. We were a solid, devoted and happy family and there was absolute love between us. Dom was a vital quarter within our whole and we couldn't fill that gap or compensate for his loss. His 19th birthday on 11th December and that first Christmas were particularly harrowing and we still find family occasions really hard without him.
Dom was a delightful and sociable character who very rarely chose to spend time in his room, preferring instead to be in our company when he was at home, and who was never happier than when having a lively discussion or exchanging repartee with family and friends. He loved people whatever their age, background or beliefs and he accepted everyone on face value, never forming a judgement until he had had the chance to get to know them. This wasn't always a good quality because it sometimes led to disappointment for Dom, but it was one of the traits that made him the sensitive and caring individual that he was. He didn't have a bad bone in his body. He was naive in the ways of the world, although he thought he knew it all, but he had grown into a unique and charismatic young man who was ready to make his way in the world.
Dom was especially happy at the time of his death as he had finally found his focus. He was about to embark on a career in the Royal Navy as a marine engineering mechanic and it was a pleasure to share his sense of excitement and nervous anticipation at the road that lay ahead. We were impressed at the dedication and motivation Dom showed whilst following the selection programme and we grieve deeply for the life that would have been his, for the experiences he will miss, mistakes, regrets and failures included. Dom didn't deserve to have his life taken from him, having fought against severe illness as a baby until aged 10 when he suddenly grew stronger and more robust. Highly skilled surgeons and medical staff fought very hard to save his life in those early years and it seems such a terrible waste that he was not able to take full advantage of the gift that he was given. He was affected by this earlier condition throughout his life but we never heard him complain and we don't believe he even thought himself disadvantaged. Certainly he didn't expect any special treatment and he embraced life with open arms.
In the February following his death I was standing in my local newsagents when the front page of the local newspaper caught my eye. With disbelief I read an article detailing the driver's first appearance in court having been charged with causing Dominic's death by dangerous driving. I was just devastated that the FLO hadn't informed us. As far as I am concerned we were standing for Dominic as he couldn't do so for himself and I felt completely let down and distressed that we had not been given the opportunity to attend the first court appearance.
At about this time also we asked to see the car. We were offered video footage and photographs but there was a real reluctance from the police for us to see the actual car. For some reason this became something of an issue but we persevered and eventually our request was granted. Our FLO and the Inspector supported us during our visit to the garage and I can't express enough the benefit we gained from this. It enabled us to understand how Dom was thrown from the car and clarified many of the facts we had been told. I also began to appreciate just how badly the driver had been driving.
We then entered into the court process and attended four court sessions over six months culminating in the sentence in the July. I can only say that we were completely looked after and supported throughout this process by the FLO and the team. We chose to make our own way to court but they were always there waiting for us, helping us to understand what was happening, forming a secure barrier between us and the outside world, and facilitating our way through, what was for me, an intensely traumatic experience. I cannot imagine what it would have been like without their support.
I found it particularly upsetting when the driver initially pleaded 'Not Guilty' - to me it was a complete betrayal of my son and seemed to demonstrate a lack of remorse and denial of any responsibility. The fact that I had always believed that he cared for Dom and was shattered by what had happened had made it easier for me to carry on. I was also terrified that we would have to go to trial as I really didn't think I would survive it. The police gave me strength and forbearance at a time when I was in no state to deal with any additional stress and, sure enough, the plea was subsequently changed to guilty.
The driver was sentenced in July 2005 and there followed a very difficult period. It seemed like everyone had returned to their normal, everyday lives, whilst we were struggling with complete and overwhelming sorrow. Perhaps the most difficult aspect to bear was the intensity with which we missed him every second of every minute of every day. We wondered how we could live the rest of our lives without him, how we could get through so many days and years with him gone from us. We mourned for him as he was when he was a baby, a toddler and at every stage of his short life. It was as if those earlier stages of his life had been taken from us also and whilst we cherished the memories of him and the experiences we shared with him, we were, and are, broken hearted that we will never see him again in this world. We miss buying Baby Bel cheese and having to pick the pieces up from around the house, him eating all the bacon crisps, him filling the house with the smell of Lynx deodorant, him calling "Shall I put the Smelly on?" for the television, him peering anxiously through the front room window at an ungodly hour because he'd forgotten his keys, him laughing unreservedly at some silly remark, him giving the thumbs up when we went to pick him up from work. We still miss everything about him and him just being there.
Three years on and we are much stronger and more able to cope. At a time when we were crippled by shock and brought to our knees by grief, we were supported by some very special individuals. They would probably say they were just doing their jobs. To us it was much more than that and those individuals will always have a place in our hearts.
Our hearts are still filled with sorrow at the premature and needless death of a lovely, thoughtful, fun-loving rogue who cared deeply about his family and friends. Our lives and the world we live in will never be the same. Dominic had his life snatched from him. He will never again sit in the sun having a drink with his friends, never experience regret and joy, never realise his career ambitions, never experience the happiness of finding his soul mate, never look down into the face of his new-born child and marvel at the wonder of it all. He can never spend another second with a family who love him so much that they would give everything they had just to have him back for one day.
We are exceptionally proud of Dominic and we love him so very, very much. We are thankful that we had the privilege of having him as our son for he was a truly special boy. The day that he died our world became a darker place and the sun will never shine as brightly for us again."
Author: Nova Storey
Edited by: Mary Williams
Date Written: January 2008