Life and Death in a Rear View Mirror

by Kathy McMahon, Team Zero Advocate

July 1995, DublinI came back to consciousness still inside the car, with harsh fumes permeating the air around me. It took a few moments for me to get my bearings.

Then I remembered what I had been doing moments before this – driving towards Tallaght on the Belgard Road with my two wonderful sons in the car.

My last memory was seeing in the rear view mirror a car from behind come towards me at speed. As the moments seemed to become minutes. I tried to accelerate out of the way but the car continued on. There was a bang. Then darkness.

Now sitting in the car, my surroundings came into focus. We were on the other side of the dual carriageway -where we had a head-on impact. I noticed something strange about my body and thought, “I have never sat so straight in my life”. Not realizing that I was pinned to the car seat and that my legs would have to be rebuilt with titanium.

I turned to my son Justin sitting in the passenger seat. He was silent, his eyes closed. I spoke his name, “Justin”. There was no reply. I called to my younger son in the back seat, also without reply. Looking out the driver’s window, a man on his hunkers was speaking to me. I told him “I need to get out, I need to help my sons”. He said not to move, that the emergency services were there and going to get us out.

I called Justin in the passenger seat again and pleaded with him to respond. There was silence. He had something in his mouth, holding his airways open. I heard someone speaking to my youngest son in the back seat, telling him he was covering him with a jacket to prevent injury from flying glass as they cut us out of the wreckage. There was no response from him. I began to scream, to plead with God to give me all the pain and just leave my sons alone.

Finally, I heard my youngest son groan and I spoke to him, told him there were people there to help and not to be afraid. I turned my attention to my son in the front passenger seat, pleading with him to speak, to open his eyes. My other son, conscious now, calling his brother’s name. Begging him to reply. Then a sudden energy surge felt like something leaving, and we screamed for him to stay, but he was gone.

I must have lost consciousness again because next I found myself in an ambulance and recall the ambulance men telling me I was going to James Connolly Memorial hospital and my sons were gone to St James’. Darkness closed in again.

Unique Potential

“I hope you are saving for university, you have a scholar on your hands” The words came from my son’s sixth class teacher, Mr. Durcan, in St Mark’s primary school. His statement did not surprise me as I had raised my boy, so I knew.

Those remarks during a January, 1990 Parents/Teacher meeting were repeated in 1995 at a parent/teacher meeting. “If he was my son I would be shouting his name from the rooftops. Do you know how special and unique your son is?”

That last year Justin agreed to do work experience at a local vet’s clinic. He had grown to love animals through keeping gerbils. He became very interested in veterinary work from spending lots of time in the vet’s surgery. A career in veterinary was definitely on his radar. Or more.


It was a week later before I was again conscious. I was in the intensive care unit in James Connolly Memorial Hospital. I knew my son was no longer with us, I had known from the moment in the car when I felt his energy leave.

I came around just about the time that his human remains were escorted through the cemetery gates, surrounded by all his friends and the people who love him. He had a police escort on his final journey as a mark of respect.

We all must accommodate loss – and I have done so. But it is the waste of Justin’s potential and the effect on others that for me is irreplaceable.

If there had been a system which could have warned me that day, I might well have had time to get off the road. In any event, I see the immense benefits of helping prevent other similar incidents. I’m a strong advocate for rta0 and I urge you to be also.

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