Presenter: Hello and welcome to Cambs Cops: Our Stories.
Last year 35 people were killed in road collisions in Cambridgeshire. Every one was investigated by police and caused devastation for victim’s family and friends, and every one could have been avoided.
In this podcast we speak to Claire Danks whose 22-year-old daughter Lauren was killed in a crash caused by a drunk driver in 2016.
Claire, who's from Soham in Cambridgeshire, is now an ambassador for the Road Victim’s Trust - a charity that supports victims of fatal and life-changing road collisions, but the loss of Lauren still lives with her and her family every day.
We also speak to Sergeant Mark Dollard, a traffic officer, to get a policing perspective of dealing with fatal collisions and their aftermath.
Claire Danks: So, she was 22 and she was traveling home from her work, the night shift, and she was catapulted off the road by a drink driver. He was traveling at 124 miles per hour.
Sergeant Mark Dollard: It can be a very process driven incident; you arrive at the scene and you have a number of things that you know you need to do, you know you need to establish, and that almost helps take some of the emotion and the confusion out of the situation. I go, right, I need to identify who all the drivers are, who all the witnesses are, who is the victim? Who's that victim's family? How do we get to tell them what's going on? And you almost work your way down through a mental list and that just helps keep control of the situation for me.
Claire Danks: She was late home, so I rang her phone because that's unusual. She would have always told me if she was going to be late home and there was no reply, which again, was very out of character, so my husband went to look for her. I stayed at home pacing the floor, just sort of waiting for my husband to call or Lauren to turn up.
Obviously, you know, I knew something was wrong because she never did, you know, she wouldn't not answer her phone or she would've told me if she was going to be, you know, she was going to be late. Robert, my husband, he then rang and he said that Lauren had been in an accident.
Sergeant Mark Dollard: On first attendance, the first thing I'll do is I'll just stop and I'll take stock of what I can see going on, give myself just that moment, one to compose myself so that I can then be in a position where I can take on all that information, make sure that the scene is secure so that it is safe for everybody to do their work, make sure that it's secure in the fact that we're not losing evidence, then I will make sure that those that are needing first aid are getting it, that the triage is being done, if ambulance aren't there then our priority is going to be to give medical assistance where we can and then the investigation will begin at that point.
Claire Danks: As I stood there a police car pulled up and Robert stepped out. I could see by his face, it was just sheer pain, and sorry, he had my hands and he said to me Lauren had been killed.
At that point I don't, I'm not really sure, I sort of remember saying no not Lauren, not my Lauren.
Sergeant Mark Dollard: One of our top, if not our top, priority is making sure that that family know about the incident, know that a loved one has died. So, our priority is identifying that person, it's about finding out who we need to speak to, who is that next to kin and there's no getting away from it, it is probably one of the hardest jobs in policing, to tell somebody that their loved one's not coming home and unfortunately I've done it more times than I care to remember over the years and there isn't an easy way of doing it, you can't sugarcoat that message, you've got to make a judgment call on how you pass that message. I say each and every one's different, there's no set reaction that a family member should react in a certain way, you'll get those that'll be very pragmatic and matter of fact and just want to deal with the facts, because they realise they've got other family members they need to pass that on to, and then you'll have those that crumple at the door in tears and there's no right or wrong way to receive the information and it's our job to deal with however they need us to deal with it.
Claire Danks: We went inside in disbelief and I broke down. I'm not really sure I have any words that would even come close to, or even know how, I felt I think it was just total shock and disbelief and really didn't even know, I couldn't even process what was going on.
I remember sitting in the lounge with my mum and my dad and my husband and we said we'd wait and tell the boys as they woke in the morning, not really sure what we were going to tell the boys, or how, we were going to tell the boys, and we all sat just sat quite numb. When the boys came down in the morning as they would do, to start their day for school, that was when we had to tell them what had happened to their sister and watching their pain it's absolutely unbearable.
I suppose the only way I can describe it is it's like somebody's dropping a bomb on your family and as a mum you know you're supposed to protect your children and you want to make it better, but there was no way I could sort of give him a cuddle and tell him it was better.
Sergeant Mark Dollard: A lot of our roads policing officers are trained as family liaison officers, so they get specialist training in how to provide that support to the family and be that link from the deceased, to the family, to the investigation, to the police, so that they know where the investigation's going and that family liaison officer will support that family right the way through to an inquest or to a criminal conviction depending on where our investigation takes us.
Claire Danks: What's it like life without Lauren? It's different; she's a big part of our life every day and always will be and she's involved in our life daily. We talk about her and her resting place. We kind of call it her garden, because it's special and I go and I sort of do her flowers and it's almost like as a mum I’m still able to do something for her and the boys and I visit with my husband. But day to day Lauren's very much talked about in our home and she's with us every day and as part of the family still.
Sergeant Mark Dollard: The one thing you can't do is let emotion get in the way when you're at the point of dealing with that because if you've got an offender, ultimately you're looking at wanting to get a conviction and if you let emotion get in the way, you run the risk of making mistakes, you run the risk of ultimately letting a family down and then you're not doing your job. Your emotion hasn't helped anyone get justice for their loved one who's died in a crash, so what you've got to do is any anger or frustration you have towards an offender, you've got to park it, put it to one side, and if nothing else, just let it drive you to be even more professional.
Claire Danks: I do try not to let thoughts of him consume me too much and I remember him being sentenced to seven years and thinking that's quite unfair, because in about three years he would be out and how is that even possible when he can come out and just start living his life and yet we have to live with the heartbreak and pain of not seeing Lauren every day for the rest of our lives?
Sergeant Mark Dollard: It's one of the best parts of the job, being able to provide justice for somebody that shouldn't have died.
Claire Danks: Obviously that evening Lauren didn't have a choice and had she been given a choice she had her whole life ahead of her and she absolutely loved life and she would choose to be here today, so we're getting by.
So, by you making a choice to get behind a wheel after having a drink then you could potentially kill someone.
Sergeant Mark Dollard: It's widely reported in the press and through various social media channels, you have what we locally and nationally refer to as the fatal four, so the four main reasons why serious collisions and fatalities and serious injuries happen. The first one them is speed. Anyone speeding is more likely to crash and if they do crash because they're going faster, they are more likely to cause serious harm and serious injury. Your seatbelts; seatbelts are designed for a reason and they're designed to minimise the impact of a collision and minimise and reduce your risk of serious injury. You've then got drink and drugs; everybody should know by now, we've heard it for years that drinking and taking drugs seriously impairs your ability to drive. The fact that we keep having to mention it is quite frankly astounding, but we still come across people who persistently drink drive and drug drive and when they get involved in crashes invariably they have very serious consequences and we have dealt with more than our fair share of people who have been on the wrong end of a fatal collision involving drink or drugs. And the last of the fatal four is using your mobile phone. If you are using your mobile phone while driving you are distracted from the action of driving. Hands free kits are readily available now; there should be no reason why anybody should be using a handheld phone while driving, be engaged in a call or sending text messages. You are taking your eyes and your concentration off the road and you are at risk of causing a collision.
Claire Danks: I hope talking about what has happened to our family and talking about Lauren will make a difference and bring some awareness, and we've raised a lot of money in Lauren's memory, which again helps us focus and helps us give something back, and it also helps support families like us because I do honestly believe that if without that support the RVT gave us then I'm not sure we'd be where we are today, so please don't drink and drive.
Presenter: Thank you to Sergeant Mark Dollard, and in particular to Claire, for sharing such a life-changing and heart-breaking story.
Thank you for listening remember to look out for the next episode of Cambs Cops: Our Stories on our YouTube channel.