Sunday 7 June 2009

A lethal lapse

If ever you needed proof of the devastation a moment's careless driving can cause, the heart-rending story of the Beachy Head suicides really brings it home.

As Josephine Elias, a property consultant, was driving at top speed round a blind bend on a country lane in 2005, she smashed head-on into the car driven by Kazumi Puttick, whose 16-month-old son Sam was sleeping beside her.

Sam was thrown through the windscreen and across the road, severing his spinal cord and leaving him quadriplegic.

His distraught parents gave up their jobs to care for him and were totally dedicated to giving him the best possible quality of life.

Two weeks ago Sam developed pneumococcal meningitis and died. Kazumi and Neil Puttick were so shattered they threw themselves off Beachy Head in Eastbourne, with Sam's body in a rucksack.

This catastrophic chain of events was triggered off by one simple act of carelessness by a self-absorbed driver. According to reports, she was also distracted by dogs in her car.

All she had to say this weekend, in a statement from her solicitor, was that she was "deeply saddened". An amazingly cool reaction to the trail of damage she has left behind her.

I can guarantee that at this very moment there are other drivers hurtling down country lanes at breakneck speed, equally oblivious to who or what might be round the next corner.

If it was a food product that was causing this level of carnage and tragedy, it would be taken off the shelves. Unfortunately cars are too necessary to be banned, so idiotically reckless drivers will continue to ruin other people's lives for years to come.

Photo: Sam Puttick


  1. Nick, I share your angst, but would request you to read this piece of news:
    Toby Roe, 36, who was a close friend of Neil's from their days at Exeter University and was best man at his and Kazumi's church blessing 12 years ago - which followed a civil wedding ceremony in Japan - said: 'They never once expressed any anger towards the other driver in the accident, nor would they want anyone else to. As far as they were concerned it was an accident. They accepted what had happened could not be changed and moved on. All they were concerned about was keeping Sam healthy and making him happy. He was the entire focus of Neil and Kazumi's lives. Everything they did, they did for him. While it is impossible for those closest to them to take in what has happened, I can imagine the huge void they must have felt when Sam died. Although it is hard to take any positives out of this horrible situation, one small shred of light you can draw from this is the extraordinarily powerful love Neil and Kazumi felt for Sam.'

    I know of another case where the parents decided to end their lives rather than live without their only son killed in an automobile accident. In this case, the son was riding his own motorcyle.

    I for one, am all for banning all automobiles and reverting to pre auto days of living. All of us would live healthier, be more laid back and there will be less dependence on oil which in turn can only have much needed relief from oil funded fundamentalism. Peculiarly enough, we have the techonolgy now in place that can make this possible.

  2. That's desperately sad. You say the child was beside the mother at the time of the accident though - was he not restrained in a child seat?

  3. Nick, I live at the edge of a town and the roads twist and bend, have no footpaths and are sided with high hedges. At times you take your life in your hands walking along even when facing oncoming traffic. The cars never heed the speed limits.

    I am not sure I am ready to abandon my car altogether as Ramana suggests. Without it I would be very restricted and need to rethink my housing and living arrangements. Living in a town or with family close by would certainly make it easier but alas, I am without both luxuries.

  4. I was wondering about what Caro said too--was the child properly restrained? If not, well...

    My husband says that most of the traffic fatalities he has seen were a direct result of the people not being belted properly. And he has seen a great deal of traffic fatalities in his line of work.

    Nevertheless, it is a chilling story.

  5. Ramana - That's remarkable that they felt no anger towards the other driver. I doubt if I would be so generous in the same circumstances! Their dedication to their disabled son was truly impressive.

    Caro - I should have said that he WAS in a child seat, but the force of the impact sent the seat itself through the windscreen.

    Grannymar - Like you, I've walked along country roads many times and not felt very safe. And I agree, living without my car would limit my life drastically.

    Leah - See my reply to Caro. I was in a mini-coach the other day and I was the only person using my seat belt. The others were clearly oblivious to the risk.

  6. The law here is that child safety seats cannot be in the front seat. Is that true there too?

    I must say that recently they seem to be practicing heavy enforcement.

  7. Tragic. Although being a devoted parent, I'm not sure I could survive the death of a child. Leah has a point. Child restraints here (AUS) are mandatory in the BACK SEAT. It's an offence to have a child under 10 in the front seat. Also the wearing of seatbelts is compulsory. That's the safety side taken care of but we're still battling speed as a killer, and it invariably is!

  8. Leah - English law requires child seats but they don't have to be in the rear of the car. US law is clearly more safety-conscious.

    Baino - Ditto re Australian law. Wearing of seatbelts is compulsory in Britain but the law is not strictly enforced. It's usually only enforced after an accident!

  9. It is such a tragic set of circumstances and a lesson to us all to pay attention at the wheel. Driving can be so 'second nature' to us, it is all to easy to take your eye off the ball, as it were.

  10. Suburbia - It's all too easy to take your eye off the ball, there are so many potential distractions both inside and outside the car.

  11. Liz - It's extremely sad. Lives that were going just fine until a totally negligent driver knocked them for six.

  12. I think it's beyond sad. Maybe Sam's parents didn't blame the driver who caused the accident, but in my view she was criminally negligent. There cannot be anything worse than outliving ones own child because it is out of the normal order of things.

    Every day I see people driving with complete unconcern for others and it scares and appalls me.

  13. Heart - Criminally negligent is exactly right. I don't see how his parents could possibly forgive the other driver for something that was in no way an innocent human error.

  14. I think you need to look up accident in the dictionary and also consider getting your facts straight and not taking as red mis information printed by irresponsible journalists before making benign comments. Alternatively watch the film Crash and consider that "accidents" effect all parties, the parents had a responsibility to have their child in a child seat in the back of the car - not doing so was the reason he was so badly harmed, the driver who hit them was not driving fast nor distracted by her dogs, all of which is a matter of fact and stated in court. How could they blame another party when they knew they were negligent in not strapping their child in. I have a child, he is always in his car seat, and, if he wasn't and he was hurt in an accident I would accept the negligence as my own. Please get your facts straight before posting stuff like this. To assume only makes an ass of u and me, and any other person stupid enough to read something in a paper, or blog and not question it, the press pander to such idiocy, wake up!!!!!!

  15. Anonymous - Thanks for your comment. I'm always ready to listen to different points of view, and I'm also ready to admit I don't necessarily know the full facts of the case. I've reread several of the original reports but it's not clear whether he was in a car seat or not. If you say he wasn't in a car seat, and therefore his parents were as much to blame as the other driver, you may well be right.