They are the police you don’t want to meet.
Tragedy is part of their everyday lives and their job is to provide answers, closure to family members and friends trying to cope with the loss a loved one.
They are Tasmania Police crash investigators – Senior Constable Michal Rybka and First-Class Constable Nigel Housego.
Working together for more than 10 years, the duo investigate crashes right across the North of the state and are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Between them, they have investigated 119 fatal crashes and been at the scene of hundreds more.
There is hardly a road left in Northern Tasmania that doesn’t remind them of a victim, a crash, a family left devastated.
But they battle on, because they have a job to do and it’s a job that Senior Constable Rybka said he had always considered.
His interest in policing began when he was just a boy after meeting a friend’s older brother, who worked as a motorcycle cop.
However it would be a long journey ahead to landing his dream job.
Moving to Australia from Poland with his family at six-years-old, he ended up in Tasmania at age 8. He went on to complete his schooling at St Patrick’s College and Launceston College before starting a university degree in architecture.
All the while, policing remained in the back of his mind.
After completing two years of the three year degree, he decided he needed a change.
After going back to university part-time while he worked as a Constable, he completed his final year.
Working his way up through the force, including stints with the road safety taskforce and traffic services, he accepted a position with the Northern Crash Investigation Services.
Ten years later and his architecture degree is just one of many qualifications he has acquired since becoming a crash investigator.
Both Senior Constable Rybka and First-Class Constable Housego have undertaken numerous specialist courses, including interstate and international education.
All the training in the world, however, could never prepare someone to face the reality of a serious or fatal crash, on a daily basis.
Senior Constable Rybka said as an investigator, “you just have a job to do”.
“When there’s a fatality and I arrive at the scene, I just see it as a work environment, I put the human aspect aside,” he said.
“You have to do that otherwise you’d go crazy. So I remind myself, it’s a job I’ve got to do.
“On my days off I make sure to relax, trout fishing is a favourite pastime of mine and getting out there in the wilderness and the quiet clears my head.”
While he has learned to switch-off his emotions and get on with the job 99 per cent of the time, the 41-year-old said there were some crashes that would always be difficult to face.
“Crashes involving children, deceased children, is never easy,” he said.
“But the family need answers, we need answers, and there is great satisfaction in putting family members at ease by letting them know what actually happened.”
The difficulty faced by these officers each day doesn’t end at the crash scene though. They both make regular trips to the hospital to comfort survivors, family members and friends.
“That’s probably the worst, that first contact. It’s normally only a few hours after they’ve lost a loved one,” Senior Constable Rybka said.
He said it’s a job not many people would choose to do – but he enjoyed it in spite of that.
“You’re dealing with grief and death daily, not many people would want that, but it’s certainly very rewarding when you’ve completed a thorough investigation.”
For First-Class Constable Housego, comforting family members is what he finds most fulfilling about the role.
“Meeting family members at the scene is pretty hard and you want to be there for them,” he said.
“I’m just a police officer that goes to the crash but, its the family that has experienced this terrible thing. There’s nothing you can do to take away their grief, all you can do is try to give them some answers.”
The 52-year-old didn’t always want to be a cop though.
Growing up in a small mining town in Tasmania, he completed an apprenticeship as a boilermaker/welder.
It was when one of his workmates decided to join the police force, he said ‘okay I will too’.
Heading off to the academy at 29, First-Class Constable Housego said it was a complete culture shock.
“When I joined, I thought ‘what have I done’,” he said.
“I just didn’t think it would be a lifestyle that would suit me.”
Since graduating, he has walked the beat, worked in the drug squad, completed stints in marine services, the criminal investigation branch and traffic and spent time as a motorcycle cop.
Now, more than two decades later and with 10 years as an investigator under his belt, he still remembers his first crash.
“I remember every crash, every victims name. It’s something as a human you just can’t ever forget,” he said.
“When I first started, I was terrified of getting a call-out and would go to sleep thinking about getting called out to a fatal – now I know what is expected of me at the scene.”
Witnessing serious crashes day in, day out, both officers have become passionate about road safety and have a powerful message for drivers, particularly about mobile phones.
“You have to be dead, dying or seriously injured for us to be called,” Senior Constable Rybka said.
“And we have had a number of crashes in the Northern district where we were able to prove the fatality was caused by a mobile telephone because we have had the caller still on the other end.”
He said crashes don’t just affect the victim.
“It’s family members, friends, witnesses to the crash, other drivers, emergency workers- the list goes on, it just snowballs.”