We just couldn’t save him: an ordinary night, disrupted

REELING: What started as an ordinary night at home changed Craig Northey's life forever. Picture: MARK JESSER
REELING: What started as an ordinary night at home changed Craig Northey's life forever. Picture: MARK JESSER

The memorial is gone but the tree is still scarred.

One Saturday in April, Craig Northey and his son Patrick were watching a war-time movie at home.

A night in, nothing special, until a thud reverberated through their living room.

From that moment, their lives changed.

Craig and Patrick took to the street, running. 

They were joined by neighbours, a cab driver, passersbys; all running, calling police, grabbing fire extinguishers. 

Just after midnight on April 2, Darcy Young died when his car crashed into a tree and caught fire at the corner of Douglas Rd and Barlow St in Lavington. 

He was only 17. 

A night like so many others, that ended so differently and changed the lives of his family, friends and all those who tried to help.

In the early hours of the morning, Craig and his 22-year-old son returned home.

The sun peeked through curtains, staining the living room floor.

They sat, for hours.

In the same room only hours before where they had been watching television; they now sat side-by-side with a police officer.

I’m a lot more serious than I used to be and I think that comes from being - I don’t use the word depressed - but certainly there are times you’re in a very dark place.

Craig Northey

Unable and unwilling to sleep.

The crass sound of hoons doing donuts echoed from streets away and drifted into the living room. 

“It was horrible,” says Craig, who admits he couldn’t sleep more than four hours a night for a month.

Seven months on, he still has nights where he doesn’t want to close his eyes. 

“It’s a bit better now,” Craig says.

“I’ll never ever forget it as much as I might want to at times, it’ll always be there but you just learn to deal with it.

“The way I look at it I had nothing like the loss the family had.

“As soon as I start to feel bad now, I think about them and I’m sure they must feel much worse.”

Craig’s house is about 100 metres from the crash scene, but still he can’t look at it.

He passes the tree most days. 

It is no longer permanently coloured by memorial flowers, but for Craig the memories it holds will never be forgotten.

“I don’t go to the park anymore with my granddaughter,” he says. 

“I still travel that way but I don’t look at the tree.

“I did look at the tree once when there were flowers and candles set up there; someone lit candles at the base of the tree and it made me think of that night and I never looked again.

“I try to avoid the tree if I can; I take my granddaughter to other parks.

“It was a hard thing, hard for all the neighbours but no one talks about it.”

FOREVER REMEMBERED: A memorial for Darcy Young, days after the crash that shook the Lavington neighbourhood. INSERT: Darcy Young.

FOREVER REMEMBERED: A memorial for Darcy Young, days after the crash that shook the Lavington neighbourhood. INSERT: Darcy Young.

After that night Craig tried not to think of the crash, the young man he couldn’t save or that young man’s family.

But although he didn’t know him in life, Darcy Young is never far from his thoughts.

“I didn’t want to know his name but my daughter told me the next day,” he says.

“It might sound odd but I never wanted to know his name.

“I didn’t want to know his name because once you put a name to the face it’s even harder.”

Craig’s trauma finds him trapped between grief and guilt. 

He believes the family’s grief eclipses his experience and, compared to them, he thinks he has no right to his grief or his sleepless nights.

He didn’t know Darcy.

He didn’t know he was a skilled rugby player, a solid mate, keen for a laugh. 

But Craig was home that night.

And now he’s in limbo. 

“It doesn’t go away for the family,” he says.

“Every day they must look at the gap in the kids and realise someone is missing.

“The family went through a lot more than what everyone else would have.

“I really feel sorry for the family. It’s devastating. 

“When people ask if I want to talk to the family, I think ‘Yes I do, oh no I don’t, oh yes I do’, and I finally decided if I was so torn about it, I couldn’t talk to them.”

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That night, a night that started with a father and son night in watching a movie, changed Craig’s life, the lives of his neighbours and of passersby. 

They show that the road toll reaches far; leaving too many victims in its wake. 

“It’s changed my life,” he says.

“I still see it, not every day but certain things will trigger it and then I’m there.

“I’m a lot more serious than I used to be.

“I think that comes from being - I don’t use the word depressed - but certainly there are times you’re in a very dark place.

“I’m not as happy as you used to be. It does put you into a different head space.”

The father and grandfather worries a lot about his own son, 22, and daughter, 19, on the roads. 

He’s seen how easily a child can be taken from a family too soon. 

He can no longer pretend disasters happens to “other people”.

And Craig knows tragedy doesn’t discriminate. 

“You do realise how precious life is,” he says. 

“I don’t take it for granted.

“You’re more worried about your kids going out.  

“When they are driving I make them call me when they get there, to keep in contact always.”

Craig and his son don’t talk about that night.

“My son is 22, he was there but I tried to protect him from it,” he says.

“He never speaks about it but he’s mindful of things he sees on TV that might upset me.

“He flicks it off and says we don’t need to see that – I don’t know if it’s for me or him.”

Craig believes there needs to be more free support services available for people like him and his son, who offer assistance at incidents.

After the crash he was able to access about a dozen free counselling session.

Since they’ve finished, he’s been alone with his thoughts. 

“It makes it a bit lonely when you’ve got no one you want to talk about it with,” he says.

Seven months on, Craig says he’s doing better, sleeping better, and has coping techniques to help him. 

But talking about it still causes sleepless nights. 

Thoughts of the 17-year-old he didn’t know still haunt him.

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“You do the macho thing, you don’t talk about it, there were times with lots of tears over it, the tears have generally dried up now but you still feel it,” he says

“For two days I didn’t go outside the house.

“It weighs on your mind. When it happened I’d be averaging three or four hours of sleep a night.

“Eventually you don’t want to go to bed and close your eyes.”

Craig doesn’t like to talk about that night.

Not with his son who was there, nor with his neighbours who banded together to call for help.

But he decided to share his story so people might understand the road toll’s far-reaching impact.

“I hope people realise road safety needs to be looked at again and people can’t take it for granted,” Craig says. 

“If this saves someone that’d be great.”

An ordinary man.

Still scarred.