COLETTE Griffin lost her only daughter, Sarah Richardson, in a two-car collision on the Fota Road on April 27, 2012.
The Cobh woman is now a board member of the Irish Road Victims Association and a member of the International Road Victims Partnership (IRVP).
She is preparing for World Day of Remembrance for road victims this Sunday.
“We remember the bereaved families and many others affected, including the emergency services during the ceremony, who are often the first at the scene,” says Colette. “We honour the gardaí and the emergency services.”
When 19-year-old Sarah left home from Cobh in her car, a Fiesta, one Friday evening seven years ago to visit her friend in Midleton; she was dead two hours later, just minutes from home.
“I always thought if Tom and I reared her until she was 16; then we’d be very lucky,” says Colette, who erects a Tree of Hope at Penny Dinners Cork every Christmas in memory of Sarah, collecting gifts and helping the needy in the process.
Having landed her dream job training to be a hairdresser in Origins, Drawbridge St, Sarah was full of the joys of life.
“That’s all she ever wanted to do,” says Colette.
“When Fergal [O’Connor] agreed to take her on as an apprentice hairdresser; all her dreams came true.”
Delighted with her daughter’s exciting new job, Colette drove up to Cork with Sarah in the car every morning and came back to Cobh on the train.
“Her driving instructor said Sarah was well capable,” says Colette.
“I went up on the train again to meet her after work and drove home with her.
“I remember the lads in the car park in the train station being so kind to Sarah. They noticed the beautiful blonde girl every morning and they knew she had just started work.
“They told her they’d turn a blind eye to her car being parked up all day, Monday to Friday.
“The lads knew Tom as well from CIE, who is a bus driver. They joked that Sarah could give them haircuts to return the favour.
“They were so shocked when they heard Sarah had died.”
On the fateful Friday that Sarah had a fatal road incident, a two-car collision on the Fota road, her car wouldn’t start.
“I brought her to work and I collected her,” says Colette.
“The next day, Saturday, was to be her first day ‘on the floor’ at work and she was really excited about that.”
Dad decided to take a look at the car.
“Tom said to me; ‘if she put petrol in it; then it might start.’
“He had tried jump leads and everything. I’d given Sarah €50 to put petrol in the car.”
Sarah was a typical teenager.
“She told me she put €10 of petrol in the car and went into Brown Thomas with the rest of the money to buy new mascara!”
That evening, Sarah, looking forward to her new job and looking forward to telling her friend Clare all about it, decided to head to Midleton.
“I remember my neighbour Ann said Sarah waved to her.
“She never saw her again.”
When Colette was alerted about the fatal road incident, she feared the worst.
“I was in the bathroom at home. My niece came into me. And I just knew. I said to Caroline; ‘she’s dead. I’m telling you.’
“Tom got the car keys to go, it was bedlam. My nephew Martin, who is a fireman, was at the scene. I wanted to know was Sarah talking before she died.
“He was surprised I was so calm. But I ran through the Garda barrier up the Fota Road. I could hear Tom roaring trying to get through to Sarah. Dr Doran was at the scene and Sarah was in the ambulance.
The doctor said she died instantly. She was probably lucky; she had no blemish. Her eyes were open. She always expressed all her emotions through her eyes. Her whole life was through her eyes. Now there was no emotion in her eyes, only peace.”
Colette and Tom’s whole lives changed, changed utterly.
“Your life is gone. Your future is gone,” says Colette.
“I live my life pretending.
“I could choose to hit the pub, which would be easy. I live in Sarah’s memory. Tom and I believe that we’ll see Sarah again. We keep our pain.
“The other driver had been drinking,” says Colette. “Blame won’t bring Sarah back.”
Colette, who welcomed the law introduced last November imposing an automatic three-month driving ban for those drivers who get behind the wheel who are found to have blood alcohol concentration levels between 50mg and 80mg, says use of mobile phones while driving and speed contribute to Irish road fatalities.
The law replaced legislation which previously issued penalty points and a €200 fine.
“Having that law passed was like personal justice for me,” says Colette.
“Zero tolerance is the way to go.
“But it seems that isn’t going to happen anytime soon. Using mobile phones while driving and speed are factors which need to be seriously addressed.
“It is too late for me now. I can’t change the outcome, but other people’s lives can be saved. Everyone should be entitled to walk or drive safely on our roads.”
Colette finds some solace in volunteering for Penny Dinners and from family support.
“Penny Dinners is my salvation,” says Colette.
“Helping others takes away my own pain. My faith helps keep me strong too.
“Two weeks after Sarah died, Siad, the night porter at the Bellavista Hotel, who is Indian, said to me, ‘she is gone to Allah. She was too good for this world’.
“It stays in my mind.”
Sarah is always in her parents’ hearts.
“We know we’ll meet her again.”
World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims is Sunday, November 17. For more, see irva.ie