- Warning: This story contains graphic images
Cheryl Swan had no idea when she hugged her son goodbye after Mother’s Day lunch it’d be the last time she saw him alive.
Hours later Daniel was killed when another driver failed to keep left, crossing onto Daniel’s side of the West Tamar Highway, causing a head-on crash about 4.20pm at Loira.
“We said our regular goodbyes with a big hug and said ‘I love you’, but I had no idea it was the last time ever,” Ms Swan said.
The man who caused the fatal crash, Graeme John Stronach, appeared in the Launceston Magistrate Court on Tuesday.
The 60-year-old West Launceston man was only charged with the traffic offence of failing to keep left of the dividing line, which he pleaded guilty to.
Every week Ms Swan visits the site where her son was killed. She not only goes there to observe the traffic and replay the events that led to Daniel’s death, she also goes there to speak to her son.
“In the months since, I’ve done the same walk on each side of the road, going over the details of the crash as I know them, thinking about what Daniel would’ve seen,” Ms Swan said.
Walking up and down the highway Ms Swan tells Daniel she knows he might not physically be there, but he is with his family and friends everywhere they go.
It has been more than eight months since the crash, but Ms Swan recalls the afternoon like it happened yesterday. About two hours after Ms Swan had lunch with her son she was sitting in her lounge room when she heard really loud banging at her back door – it was Daniel’s girlfriend Tammy and her parents.
“I thought her dad was going to break the glass because he was banging it so hard,” Ms Swan said.
She immediately knew something was wrong because Daniel was going to spend the rest of the day with Tammy and her parents.
“The first thing I said to them when I opened the door was ‘what’s happened’ and from the looks on their faces I knew it wasn’t good,” Ms Swan said.
As soon as Ms Swan found out Daniel was in a car crash on the West Tamar Highway she asked to be taken to him.
“Tammy’s mum looked at Tammy and shook her head because a message had come through and I thought ‘I think I know what that means, but I don’t want it to be that’,” Ms Swan said.
“I know I went into shock immediately and at the same time I know I began to function in survival mode. I felt as if I was a spectator watching a nightmare play out, a nightmare I could not escape from.”
In a rush to see Daniel and not thinking very clearly, Ms Swan left her house wearing slippers and without turning off the lights or television.
“We went to Exeter and the roadblock was already there. I asked police to go through, but they wouldn’t let me,” Ms Swan said.
Despite telling police multiple times she was Daniel’s mum, Ms Swan was not allowed to go past the roadblock.
“I knew it really wasn’t good then,” she said.
Although Ms Swan realised it was likely Daniel was dead, she was struggling to accept it.
She stood at the edge of the roadblock with her and Tammy’s arms linked and started calling family and friends.
“I had to let his sister know who lives in Adelaide. I didn’t want her to find out through social media,” Ms Swan said.
Making those phone calls was heartbreaking for Ms Swan, but she forced herself to contact family members to ensure they were told as quickly as possible.
“I didn’t want to tell them because I knew it would break their hearts, but I had to do it,” she said.
“I was just not wanting to believe it, I was in a nightmare already.”
Ms Swan remembers the horror on Tammy and her parents’ faces as they stood on the road waiting to gain access to the crash site.
Tammy and Ms Swan continued to stand with their arms linked as more phone calls were made back and forth to family and friends.
“Quite frankly, I was going into shock. I was trying to hold it together for the people around me,” Ms Swan said.
Tammy’s mother had a health scare at the scene, so her husband took her home.
“Tammy was still not letting go of my arm and I was not letting go of her, so I promised her dad I’d bring her home and look after her,” Ms Swan said.
A police officer at the scene asked the women to come back to the Exeter station so they could get some details about Daniel and that’s when Ms Swan knew her son was dead.
Once at the station Ms Swan kept asking to see Daniel, so a police officer arranged for them to meet the mortuary transporter at the Launceston General Hospital.
Daniel’s right to live and experience all the fun times, experiences and special occasions with family and treasured friends has been taken from us all. Death cannot be undone.Cheryl Swan
Ms Swan wept as she recalled the moment she saw her son in a blue body-bag at the hospital.
“I will never forget it. He just looked like he was asleep, but he wouldn’t wake up. I wasn’t even allowed to touch him,” she said.
“I couldn’t kiss him, but we told him we were there and we loved him.
“Every day it haunts and traumatises me that my choice to be with my son was denied.”
Ms Swan read a victim impact statement to the court on Tuesday, giving her the chance to look Stronach in the eye as she spoke of the pain and immense sadness of losing her son.
“Daniel’s right to live and experience all the fun times, experiences and special occasions with family and treasured friends has been taken from us all. Death cannot be undone. Death is final, absolute, forever. This crash cannot be undone,” she said.
“I am now traumatised every time I drive on Tasmanian roads, especially knowing that there are individuals who, having already shown total disregard and disrespect for the lives and right of other road users to travel and arrive safely without injury or death, are still legally allowed to continue to drive on Tasmanian roads.”
Ms Swan still doesn’t know the extent of Daniel’s injuries, despite several attempts to find out, the family has only been told he sustained multiple injuries.
A police officer dropped Tammy and Ms Swan to their houses after the hospital.
Family and friends had already started gathering at Ms Swan’s house to offer support, food and a shoulder to cry on.
“It is a little bit of a blur from there,” Ms Swan said.
Stronach was given the maximum penalty possible - $1630 – and three demerit points by Magistrate Sharon Cure on Tuesday.
“I’m constrained by the charge,” Magistrate Cure said.
“I don’t think very much more can be said other than it was a very significant and tragic event.”
Magistrate Cure also commended Daniel’s mum Cheryl Swan for bravely reading out a victim impact statement before Stronach was sentenced.
Ms Swan said the charge of failing to keep left has nothing to do with killing another human being, it is only about having his vehicle on the wrong side of the road.
“Any driver can be charged with that for doing the same thing without hurting anyone,” she said.
“It is a regulatory traffic infringement, big deal. Unintentional or not, if you do the wrong thing there needs to be an appropriate repercussions.”
Director of Public Prosecutions Daryl Coates wrote to Ms Swan in October to explain why Stronach was not charged with causing death by negligent driving.
“The mere fact that there was a collision does not create a presumption that the driver was negligent,” the letter, sighted by The Examiner, said.
“As there is no direct evidence as to why Mr Stronach went onto the incorrect side of the road, the case is a circumstantial one. For a prosecution to succeed in a circumstantial case it must exclude all reasonable hypotheses consistent with innocence.”
The letter said there were a number of possible reasons why Stronach went onto the incorrect side of the road, including a momentary lack of attention, being distracted and a sneezing or coughing fit.
- Crash images have been republished at Ms Swan’s request. The Examiner apologises for any distress caused.