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‘Let’s Just Get Home’ – Adj and Rachel

Adj was driving the car that crashed killing his good friend Ben.  Below Adj and Rachel will describe how this tragic event unfolded and how one decision impacted on so many lives

Key quotes from Adj:

‘I wish it was me that was dead, I wish I could do anything to switch places with Ben, I wish I could do anything to change the situation that I created.’

‘I’d give anything to go back to that night and change things, and not drink, or just not go out, or not do, or not do anything.’

A – Adj

R – Rachel

A:        Hi my name is Adj. I left Uni in 2011. I enjoyed all the stuff we did including the parties and larking about, things like that.

R:        And I’m Rachel, and I graduated in 2011 too. We were in the same year, and the place was amazing, we had the best time ever and made the best friends we’ve ever had. But we all wanted to party and it’s really hard to get around because you’re in the middle of nowhere, so you if you go to all these parties and the pubs and have a brilliant time, how do you get back?

We used to be really bad. We used to either drink drive ourselves, or get in cars with people who had been drink driving and were over the limit, and it’s just so easy to do. You go somewhere, you think you’ll leave your car there and then you realise you can’t get a taxi back, you can’t get home, so you’re like ‘well it’s a mile down the road, we’ll just drive, we’re not going to meet anyone, it’ll be fine.’

A:        After the Christmas hols in our third year, I went out and picked up Ben. We were going out to have a good catch up, see what we’d been up to in the holidays, have a good chat over a couple of pints. It was my turn to drive that night and I went out with the intention to leave the car there and get a taxi back. So I went and got to the pub, had a few pints and then I can remember walking out and seeing my car there in the rain.

The next thing I can remember is waking up and there was just steam absolutely everywhere all around me. I looked to my left and I see Ben’s not moving and outside I can see someone moving around outside. It was Tami, who was the barmaid and she was being very calming to me. She was on the phone to the ambulance and police and all I kept shouting is ‘He’s ****ing dead, he’s ****ing dead.’ Tami was trying to calm me down. I was delirious, it’s difficult to describe the emotions.

The police arrived and the ambulance and I sat in the back of the ambulance, blowing into the breathalyser. On the road in front of me I saw this white sheet, which was the sheet covering Ben’s body because he died in the crash.

R:        The crash was 11 o’clock Monday night and at 5 o’clock the next morning I was woken up by a phone call from my Mum saying that my brother Ben and Adj had been in an accident. At that point I thought maybe she was just calling just to ask me to pick them up from the hospital or something because I was closest. She said that Ben had died and so immediately I asked how Adj was and she said that he was alive but injured and in hospital.

Then I asked about my Dad and my sister, and mum said that my sister was in a complete state of shock and was just sitting, not talking, not crying, nothing.  And that my Dad was sitting on the sofa bawling his eyes out, and my Dad doesn’t cry, ever, so that was really hard to hear. Mum said they were coming up to Swindon to identify his body and asked me if I wanted to come with them, but I said I didn’t want to go. I wanted to hold on to the image of him when I dropped him off at his house the night before, leaning against the work surface, laughing, excited to go out with the boys, excited to be back at Uni after the Christmas holidays. It was probably a massive copout, I probably should have gone, but I didn’t want the image of him in a morgue as the last image I had of him.

So they went to identify the body and then carried on to come and get me. In the meantime, my friend Emma had come to pick me up and took me to her house. Once university was sure that I knew, a global email was sent out telling everyone. One by one all of our friends started turning up at Emma’s, and I was just sitting there. I didn’t cry. I didn’t talk. I didn’t do anything. I didn’t know what to do. There are so many things that go through your head, aside from obviously the fact that you’re never going to see your brother again. There’s worry about what’s going to happen to your parents and how they’re going to react, how the future’s going to pan out, worrying about my sister, about Adj and our friends. There are so many things that go on in your head that you literally can’t even cry. My friend Sarah asked Emma if I was normally strong and composed and Emma said ‘Nope, absolutely not, she cries all the time’, but you just can’t, just can’t when something like that happens.

A:        Meanwhile, I woke up in hospital, in a lot of pain, not really knowing what was going on. I was praying it was a nightmare, just hoping I was going to wake up from this horrible dream and that Ben would be ok. Then the nurse came over and said that there was a phone call for me. It was my mum and I was just saying ‘I wish it was me that was dead, I wish I could do anything to switch places with Ben, I wish I could do anything to change the situation that I created.’ And you’ve got this horrible feeling of hopelessness. You can’t do a thing to change it, you are stuck in this awful limbo and you can’t do anything but think about who you’ve hurt.

The injuries I had were that my liver was cut in half by the seat belt which did actually save my life. My face was all smashed in and my knee cap was cracked, my body was a mess, but that was obviously the least of my worries at the time.

The crash was on the Monday. I spoke to Rachel and Ben’s girlfriend, Fleur, on the Thursday and they were amazingly kind. They asked after me and were just being very, very supportive and I don’t know what I would have done without that. You’ve got this feeling of hopelessness, you can’t do a thing about it. On the Friday I got whisked off to Swindon police station, where after being processed I was put in the cell, just looking at the cell door, thinking ‘well that’s it for the next few years, that’s it, life’s over, what can I do to turn this all around?’ Then eventually after processing, I was let out on bail. I went back home to Scotland, to get my body fixed and to try and clear my mind slightly and to get ready for the funeral.

At the funeral, Rachel let me sit with them at the front. But then in front of me was Ben in his coffin surrounded by his school mates. I’d met a couple of them before, but still, I was just thinking ‘What do they think of me, what have I done, I’ve killed one of their friends and taken him away and he’s not coming back.’ And at the end of the funeral, Rachel and her sister Immy had chosen to play Ben’s ringtone which was ‘Hey Soul Sister’. As we all got up at the end of the service  I completely lost it, every emotion came over me at that time, when the Huntsmen played ‘Gone Away’ and Ben’s coffin was taken out

R:        The weeks in between the accident and the funeral were all a massive blur, but at the funeral my sister and I did a speech each. Ben had raised a litter of puppies and they sat by the grave as the coffin was lowered into the ground. it was such an emotional day.

A:        After that, I had to go to Magistrates court in Malmesbury,  to stand in the dock, say my name and get told I had to go off to Crown court. At Crown Court in Swindon, they took my driving licence away from me. I pleaded guilty started to realise that this was pretty serious trouble.

Sentencing was in June, about five months after the crash. Very kindly, Rachel’s father stood up in court and asked for leniency. The Judge said no, laws are laws, I’m going to have to give you a custodial sentence, so he gave me two years, eight months. They take you out through a door at the back, then you’re whisked away in the sweat box, which is one of those prison vans with the little black windows and you’re sort of seeing everyone else outside. It was a very strange experience being taken along the motorway to Bristol. I was then plonked in the processing room and you just think ‘That’s it; I mean how the hell am I going to survive this.’

I did sixteen months inside. I had a three years and three months driving ban. So, getting a job’s difficult. You’ve got a DBS check for certain jobs and you’re treated like a paedophile or a rapist and you can’t work near schools and things like that, even though I’m a self-employed tree surgeon so, everyone gets the same blanket punishment.

Now obviously I hadn’t thought about all the other cases like anyone dying or anything like that and all of this just because I had five pints. I mean it’s not even worth, there’s no point risking it.  I’d give anything to go back to that night and change things, and not drink, or just not go out, or not do, or not do anything.

R:        Ben was in the prime of his life and was about to graduate and he was halfway through the selection process for Sandhurst. He had a beautiful girlfriend and a dog, a horse and his life was literally planned out and it was sorted. We’d started Uni the three of us, and we were planning on graduating together, but instead my parents had to watch me go collect his posthumous degree along with my own instead of him collecting his own degree.

Every day without him is a struggle, you want to tell him things, you want to ask his opinion on things, and you just want to take the mick out of him because that’s what brothers are for. My parents had been amazing, but you always worry about them and you worry about everyone else too.

It never crossed our minds to be angry with Adj, because we had all been in that situation, and it could have been any number of scenarios. I could have been driving and killed both of them. Or Ben could have been driving and killed both of us. It’s unfortunately just one of those things that because we all did it was inevitably going to happen at some point and it’s just unfortunate that it happened to these guys.

A:        You get that sense of invincibility, you think that nothing can go wrong, you think ‘Ah well it’s never going to happen to me, I’m not going to get caught’. You don’t think of what could happen to anyone else on the road. You just think about what the consequence can be to you, but actually it’s the other people that really matter. I’m not going to preach to you and tell you ‘don’t do this, don’t do that’, I’m just going to tell you the consequences of what does happen or can happen when you either drink, or get on your phone or anything in car – just don’t really.

R:        We had our whole lives ahead of us, and in that split second decision when they both got into the car, it changed everything and nothing will be the same again for Adj, for my family, for anyone in the wider circle of friends.

A:        Just do the planning beforehand, it goes a long way, you know.

R:        Get a taxi

A:        Get a taxi or walk, it’s never too far, really.

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