I remember their faces: Local crash investigator speaks out

AFTER 20 years of service as a police officer, sergeant Brent Gerber still remembers the faces of those killed in car crashes he has responded to.

"They all stick with you over time," Sgt Gerber said.

"They stay imprinted on your mind. You feel empathy towards the victims and can't help thinking that's a father, a mother, a daughter, or a son."

As part of Queensland's Road Safety Week, the forensic crash investigator sergeant Gerber has opened up about the horrors he has witnessed that most people can only begin to imagine, but one in particular haunts him more than any other - a motorcycle crash near Hodgleigh back in 2014.

"A young fellow on a motorcycle overtook a car at break road speed. The debris field from the impact, when he's hit the car head-on was about 800 metres long and about 200 metres wide. The motorbike was just incinerated."

"When he's hit the bull bar of the car, his leg was ripped off, and his head has hit the top of the cars windscreen.

"That's just collapsed his body, folded himself in half, and gone through the windscreen."

The young motorbike rider, who was just 20-years-old, bled out at the scene.

"At the time, you just have to try to be pretty clinical. It's the time after and the nights after. I'm married with three kids, and I'm not naive enough to think that it can't happen, you just hope that you instil enough in your kids for them to drive responsibly."

On going through the windscreen, the young man's body hit and severely injured an elderly lady sitting in the passenger seat.

He landed in her lap.

Speaking to the lady eight months later, she told Sergeant Gerber she was still experiencing flashbacks, as well as pain and discomfort from the accident.

There was nothing the car could have done to avoid hitting the young man, but trauma has a way of sticking to the brain, according to the sergeant.

One of the first fatals Sergeant Gerber attended was while he was working as a police officer in Mackay. A group of seven young people were heading home from a night out.

"They've flown along the highway at excess speed, full of grog, and hit a powerline. The car was shattered in half, and one bloke, he been torn in half. His mates were trying to put him back together," sergeant Gerber said.

"They were trying to put him back together to see if they could make him be alive. But an injury like that is not compatible with life."

Just 12 months later, that same group of friends were involved in two more fatal crashes. Two died and one was significantly injured in the second crash, and then four were involved in a third crash, killing another.

Closer to home at an incident in Kingaroy in 2016, Sgt Gerber recalls a young man accidentally being killed by his friend.

After a drunken squabble between two groups of people, a young man has gotten into his car and reversed over his friends head, killing him.

Another involved a young man who had simply taken a sharp bend to fast on a Wooroolin road.

A little memorial now commemorates his short life on the side of the road.

"It still takes a piece of you. These are young people that should be living vibrant full productive lives, and instead, because of circumstances that are beyond their control or within their control, they're no longer here."

Sergeant Gerber said one of the most difficult parts of the job is having to tell the family their loved one isn't coming home.

"You feel responsible forever for irrevocably changing that family's life. You knock on people's doors in the middle of the night and you can see the colour drain out of their face."

"Some people are just in shock, some people react emotionally and become inconsolable, and some act aggressively. They don't believe you and push you out of the house.

Sergeant Gerber said there is no way a person can prepare for that news. Everyone has, or will, lose loved ones at some point, but nothing can quite compare to a sudden loss of a person from a preventable crash.

He warns the 'fatal five' are still the biggest killer on Queensland roads, however steps can be taken to avoid them. They include distraction, drink driving, fatigue, speeding, and not wearing a seatbelt.

While speeding is the most common crime against road safety, distracted driving - particularly involving the use of mobile phones - is on the rise.

Sergeant Gerber said when you're travelling 100 miles an hour, and you look away for just one second, you've just travelled nearly 30 metres.

By the time you've identified a threat, it takes another 1.7 seconds to react - to apply the brake or change direction - and by then you've travelled nearly 60 metres.

"Follow the road rules and drive to the conditions. If it says 80 do 80, if it says 60 do 60, if it's raining, give yourself more distance."

South Burnett

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