When a crash victim's phone rings, 'we never pick up'
IT IS a sight Steve Webb will never forget - the bodies of five people killed in a horror crash laid out on the roadside.
The victims were all related.
It's a horrific scene the Wide Bay Forensic Crash Unit Sergeant has faced too many times after 25 years as a crash investigator and 36 years as an officer with Queensland Police.
Now, he wants drivers to start taking responsibility behind the wheel.
The devastating crash happened when the Toyota Prado the family were in collided with a semi-trailer on the Bruce Highway near Maryborough on September 30, 2012.
"I remember that one because it was like a butcher's shop," Sgt Webb said.
"We had them all laid out on the road because we had to get them out of the vehicle. We were there for hours."
In the past month, Sgt Webb's unit has attended crash scenes where five people have died within 12 days.
The first was a double fatality in Curra, where two young men, believed to be in their 20s, were killed instantly after crashing into a tree.
The second was a 53-year-old man who was killed when his car went off the road and crashed into a dam near Bundaberg, the next day a double fatality in Kolonga which Sgt Webb put down to "bloody stupidity".
"This fella has taken over on a single white line which was on his side around a semi-trailer and slammed into a family of four travelling north headed to Cairns," he said.
"He not only killed himself, but he killed the other person in the car with him."
The car burst into flames and the bodies inside were incinerated.
Since then, Sgt Webb told the Chronicle he was dealing with distraught families waiting to hear if it was their loved one in the car.
Tragically, there are times when the victim is a loved one of his own.
On April 5, 2001 Sgt Webb was first to arrive at the scene of a fatal crash involving a truck and motorcycle.
The deceased man lying in the middle of the road was his good friend and fellow police officer, Senior Constable David Shean.
Snr Const Shean was riding a police motorbike on Logan Rd, Eight Mile Plains on his way to an emergency when he was hit by a truck.
"I got there and his bike was smashed into a million pieces and he was in the middle of the road and it was obvious he was fatally injured," Sgt Webb said.
"The public was there and the ambulance hadn't even arrived yet so I had to take charge of the situation."
Although the incident involving his friend was deemed a tragic accident, others boiled it down to a person's attitude on the road.
"I've always said if you have a piss-poor attitude to life, you're going to have a piss-poor attitude to driving," he said.
"A lot of people out there don't give two stuffs about other people on the road or anywhere else for that matter."
He stressed speed zones were not implemented for the purpose of distributing fines to those who exceed the limit.
The same goes for markings on the road.
"You can't just overtake whenever you like because it can end in disaster," he said.
Mobile phones were another regular cause of fatal crashes as the message to not use a phone while driving continues to fall on deaf ears.
"If you're involved in a crash, that's one of the first things we search for," Sgt Webb said.
"We've been to crashes where the imprint of the phone is in the windscreen and you find the smashed phone in the car and you can see it's flown out of the driver's hands.
"We'll seize the phone and have it examined and look if there were any messages going out at the time of the crash, incoming calls, outgoing calls."
Sgt Webb said there was nothing worse than being at the scene of a fatal crash where the phone of the deceased is ringing.
"You just know there's a family member on the other end panicking," he said.
"We never pick (the phone) up."
Sitting in his office, Sgt Webb pulled out 11 completed files from recent crashes.
One by one he read the result of each, slamming the individual folders on his desk.
Of the 11 files, three incidents ended in serious injury while eight ended in death.
"They're the completed files and that's just some of them," he said.
"I have another two on the run and they're both double fatalities."
When asked what was the most common cause of fatal crashes, Sgt Webb put it down to drivers failing to obey road rules.
At the end of the day, it is not up to police officers to make sure a person was safe on the roads.
"The police can't save you," Sgt Webb said.
"It's up to you to save yourself, your family and to make sure you go home to your family.
"How many times do I have to spray paint a road yellow?"