An adventurous, mischievous and kind soul, Ben Paton’s death has left an irreplaceable hole in the hearts of his family and friends.
The 20-year-old was killed in a car crash at Turners Marsh in the early hours of Thursday morning, but police said the Underwood man would have survived if he was wearing a seat belt.
Ben’s parents Jenni and Doug Paton, his brother Tim, and girlfriend Grace Salt-Marsh sat in the Patons’ lounge room on Monday sharing stories of Ben’s love of the outdoors and his incredible ability to work with his hands.
At age six, he was already a “grease magnet”, working on trucks and heavy machinery with his dad.
“We were working on the trucks and Ben used to like to come and help, so one day I said to him ‘go jump on that 20-tonne excavator and dig me hole over there’,” Doug said.
“He didn’t actually dig a hole, but he spent about three hours knocking trees over.”
Ben’s skills with heavy machinery weren’t limited to excavators, Doug said when Ben was about 14 he asked if he could drive a bulldozer off the back of a truck.
A complicated piece of machinery to operate even for highly knowledgeable drivers, Ben took less than a minute to work out the levers, pedals and gears.
“I’ve been around machinery all my life and it took me much longer than that to work it out,” Doug said.
“He has never been on a bulldozer before and he just drove it off the truck.”
Ben was drawn to the outdoors.
“Whether it was mud in the early days or his more adventurous activities in recent times, he was always outside,” Jenni said.
From a young age he showed a keen interest in shooting, fishing and diving.
His parents helped him to get the appropriate licences for each activity, including a chainsaw licence in primary school.
The outdoor activities were also a bonding opportunity for Doug, Ben and Tim.
The two boys would hang off their father’s every word as he taught them the importance of gun safety.
“He was a very keen shooter,” Doug said.
“They enjoyed it and it was an educational thing.”
Tim is two years older than Ben, and while the two might not have always been the best of friends, they “always had each other’s back”.
“In the last couple of months he really started asking me for advice, and discussing how he could best get his life to go the way he wanted it to,” Tim said.
“If I had asked for a hug he probably would have turned me down, but if I asked him to drive from Launceston to Strahan at three in the morning, he wouldn't hesitate.”
His love wasn’t limited to people, Ben also adored animals and his hunting dog Buddy was no exception.
About four years ago Ben’s dog died and his dad said it was heartbreaking for him.
“I said to Ben, ‘you need a buddy’,” Doug said.
So Ben and his dad got him a new “Buddy”.
The Patons are loyal Hawthorn supporters, so many people assumed the dog was named after Buddy Franklin, but it wasn’t, “it was just Ben’s Buddy”.
Since about eight, Ben had been keeping significant artefacts, items that were mementos from his childhood through to his teenage years.
He stored them in his “pop hole”, which was a little cupboard attached to his bedroom.
“I didn’t realise that in the last few years he’d been putting things in there,” Jenni said.
The room door is fit for a child, with adults having to crouch to peek inside.
Upon entering there is an immediate sense of a life lived to the fullest, the left-hand side of the room tells the story of a childhood filled with days playing with the jar of marbles that was tucked between some fascinating rocks and weekends spent at the beach collecting shells.
There’s also a glimpse of Ben’s more adventurous teenage years to the right side of the room, with cans of energy drinks lining a section of the wall, a carefully placed packet of cigarettes and a retainer in a snap-lock bag.
Jenni jokingly referred to Ben as her beautiful nightmare because he lived on the edge of life.
Each family member had stories of Ben’s playful antics, including one time when Ben climbed to the top of a McDonald’s building.
But his infectious smile was impossible to ignore, and his mum said it made it impossible to stay angry with him.
“You couldn’t be angry with him for very long,” Jenni said.
He was due to finish his diesel mechanic apprenticeship at the end of the year, but the Patons said they were still expecting his certificate to arrive soon as he’d completed all his schooling.
“He did really well in the practical,” Jenni said.
“He was a very intelligent young man, he just did things differently.”
Recently Tim went on his first four-wheel-drive trip with Ben, something Ben was very excited about.
“He was so glad I would finally come on a 4WD trip where he could show of his car to me,” Tim said.
Ben guided his brother through the track, secretly giving him tips and telling him not to worry about breaking anything on his ute.
“He would approach me secretly, telling me that it was OK to break it, because he would help me fix it, even if it had to be done that afternoon.”
The last night Tim spent with his younger brother they were working on their cars.
“He talked about all the things he was going to fix for me on my car when he had the time,” Tim said.
Ben and his dad had made big plans for the 20-year-old’s future. Just days before he died, the pair spoke about building a shed on the family’s property so Ben could use it to start a business.
He’d also spoken about his future with Grace. On Monday, Grace said she had everything she wanted; Ben in her life, a new job and two loving families.
“In a split second he was gone, I have a hole in my heart and an ache that wont go away,” she said.
“I didn't get to tell you all the things I wanted to because I thought we had the rest of our lives to do it.”
Although they didn’t always have the same tastes, especially in music, they appreciated each other for their intricacies.
“Your smile would light up a room, your laugh was contagious, and you twirling your hair drove me mad,” she said.
Since Thursday, the Patons have been inundated with calls and texts from people hoping they had incorrect information and Ben was OK.
Ben was with his best friend Andrew Murray the night of the crash.
The pair sat beside a burn off in a neighbour’s paddock, drinking and talking.
About 12.45am Ben was driving his friend home in his beloved Landcruiser, known as Big Red, when he veered into gravel while navigating a right-hand bend. He attempted to correct the ute, but over compensated and ended up on the wrong side of the road, causing the ute to roll over. After calling triple zero, Andrew called Tim and he went straight to the scene on Pipers River Road. Ben was unresponsive when Tim arrived.
Jenni and Doug were rushing to get changed so they could also head to the crash site, but it was too late.
“We started grabbing clothes and then we got the call from Tim saying ‘don’t come ,Dad, he’s dead’,” Jenni said.
Jenni and Doug have shared Ben’s story to make sure their son’s life was not “wasted”. The message from the grieving parents was simple: wear your seat belt.
“If we can just help one person, it’s worth it,” Doug said.
“People’s lives are saved by wearing a seat belt,” Jenni said.
Crash investigators said Ben would have survived the crash if he was wearing his seat belt. Mr Murray, 21, who was believed to be wearing a seat belt, was taken to the Launceston General Hospital by ambulance and later discharged.
Family and friends are invited to attend Ben’s burial at Carr Villa Lawn Cemetery on October 10 at 12.50pm.
Parking will be available in the Carr Villa Cemetery via Quarantine Road.
After the burial, a celebration of Ben’s life will be held at Franklin Grove Centre, 502 Hobart Road, Youngtown from 2pm.