What happens when you feel responsible for an accidental death?
Tuesday, April 24, 2018 - 20:30

They’re experiences that usually live in the darkest parts of imagination.

A bump reversing into the family garage; a person on the train tracks; a small child darting out in front of a car; civilians killed, not the enemy.

For this week’s Insight guests, however, it’s a difficult reality. How do you deal with unintentionally ending someone’s life?

Peter and Emma Cockburn lost their 15 month-old daughter, Georgina, in a driveway accident in April 2011.

“I felt a bump and instantly realised it didn't feel right,” Peter says.

“So I ran behind the car and I saw my little girl laying on the ground and my worst nightmares [had] come true; I’d run over my little girl … My life just changed in that moment.”

It’s been a tough road too for Mick White, a train driver from Western Sydney. In his 30 year career, he’s experienced three fatalities and over 20 near-misses. The feeling of the bodies going under the train stays with him.

“I could not have done a thing … You just, you put your emergency brakes on [but] the momentum is still pushing you through,” he says.

In 1967, in the middle of the Vietnam War, Ben Morris was the commander of a platoon that lay in ambush.

They mistakenly opened fire on a group of civilians. 

Within seconds, hearing the cries of women and children, Ben realised their mistake.

“I was saying 'cease fire, cease fire, cease fire',” he says. “And as I ran forward I was hoping that someone would shoot me in the back so that I didn't have to face the mess that I knew I was about to face.”

Maryann Gray’s story is one closer to home for every driver: when she was 22, a small boy darted out in front of her car. There was no way to avoid collision. She remembers being horrified by the violence she had inadvertently caused, and felt the need for punishment, despite knowing it wasn’t her fault. 

Many years later, she began to open up about her experience, and quickly discovered she was not alone in having accidentally killed someone. To provide support and reduce stigma around accidental deaths, she’s since started a website with relevant resources and information; a process she has found personally rewarding, knowing she is helping others.  

“I could let the accident kind of destroy me … or I could choose to grow and get stronger as a result,” she says. “It took me a long time before I was able to do that, but I did.”

If the stories on this program raise any issues for you, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Emma and Peter Cockburn lost their 15 month-old daughter, Georgina, in a driveway accident in April 2011. They’ve set up The Georgina Josephine Foundation, a support network for families affected by low-speed vehicle runover accidents, and works to prevent and reduce unintentional injury or death of children in such accidents through awareness and practical measures.

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Presenter: Jenny Brockie 

Producer: Madeleine King 

Associate Producer: Amanda Xiberras