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Behind the Horror – Tim Connolly on Gold Coast Road Fatality Nightmare

By 06/01/2021 No Comments

 

STOIC and ever-the-professional, Tim Connolly, the clean cut owner of Newhaven Funerals sits in a dark suit and maroon tie with the weekly road death toll report laid out in front of him.

His finger traces along a small graph with a line that continues to climb as each month passes.

A 21.9% increase in fatal crashes in 2019 the report reads.

He shakes his head; “this needs to stop.”

Having worked in the family business since he left school at age 18, he is accustomed to death, grief and its grim trappings.

But the unnecessary blood letting on Queensland roads is something Tim says he will never get used to.

In fact, he is angry about it.

Funeral Director Tim Connolly at the Newhaven Funerals crematorium

Funeral Director Tim Connolly at the Newhaven Funerals crematorium. Picture: Tertius Pickard

A first hand witness to every slaughter on South East Queensland roads for the last two decades, he is determined to stop the road toll in any way he can, spurred by the efforts of Pimpama student Katherine Saunders who launched a petition for more in-school driver training.

Since 1992 Newhaven Funerals has held the Government contract for the removal of suicides, murders and bodies from every major accident in South East Queensland.

The first call for emergency services once the dust settles, their fleet of ‘body transportation vehicles’ work around the clock to collect each client and help them on their way to their final destination.

The Newhaven incinerators used for cremation

The Newhaven incinerators used for cremation. Picture: Tertius Pickard

“In my time I have seen some horrific incidents, people have been decapitated, bodies torn in two or in more than fifty parts – but that is not the major, or the horrible part,”.

“The horrible part is when you have got the mother of the kid who has been killed in that accident coming to see their child.

“Watching their knees collapse and the tears in their eyes,”

“Just seeing the loss of their will to want to even move or talk, their hearts are torn out.

“I don’t want other parents to continue to face that.

“Particularly now I am the parent of a learner aged driver myself.”

“The impact we then see on the friends and community, there is no way to describe the death of a 16 to 20 year old has.”

Walking though his Stapylton office, large screens reveal a map of the Gold Coast and Brisbane.

Each grim job is marked in bright red as drivers of the unmarked vans crawl along the display to the next accident.

The sheer number is stark.

Barcodes which track the dead are meticulously laid out, as each body is carefully processed for the return to their family, burial or cremation in the one of the four Newhaven incinerators.

The Newhaven body collection vehicles work around the clock to attend accidents across South East Queensland

The Newhaven body collection vehicles work around the clock to attend accidents across South East Queensland. Picture: Tertius Pickard

“We are on the road 24 hours a day, road crashes make up a majority of the work – it doesn’t have to be this way,” .

“My guys here get called out almost daily to collect someone who has died as a result of an accident or injury related to it.

“It can be one person in a car or four.

“This time of year we see more younger drivers come in, that is not what we want to see.”

Mr Connolly said he believes there is too much of an emphasis on fines and not enough emphasis on education in the school system.

“These kids are being set up to fail. There are rules and restrictions with large fine but we need a practical commitment from the state government to support them with school-based driver training.”

“Parents teaching their bad habits to their children while they fulfil the mandatory log book time requirements, this isn’t a solution to prevent road deaths.

“A fine for using a mobile device while driving is $1000. But a day at a driver training course is less than half of that, and would be a much better spend.”

For years Newhaven Funerals have worked in schools with local police and the RACQ to put together mock crash scenes for students.

Kids put on makeup and act out the horrific scenario which ends when one child is taken away in the funeral vehicle.

Funeral Director Tim Connolly at the Newhaven Funerals crematorium.

Funeral Director Tim Connolly at the Newhaven Funerals crematorium. Picture: Tertius Pickard

That scene always hits close to home.

“I have witnessed this situation far too many times in real life and the devastating impact this has on the family, friends and community is not acceptable,” .

“I think at that age there is no regard for the finality of death.”

At 18 years-old in his first year of work Mr Connolly faced his mortality head on, after a school mate was killed in a car accident.

“I left school two weeks early and I went straight out in the van – it happened soon after.

“I didn’t have to do it, but I chose to present her to her parents, and arrange the funeral ceremony, she was a good friend of mine.

“Even now it hits me the same way even if you don’t know the person, the surviving relatives are always devastated when a life is taken that shouldn’t be.”

“I remember even 15 years old on new years eve dad took me out to work. You see what can happen.

“Seeing all the bodies laid out, having an understanding that could be me, or one of my friends.

“I think that gives me a unique perspective to warn others.”

State government statistics reveal that in the last year 265 people lost their lives on Queensland roads in 2020, a jump of 46 people on last year.

At least 19 occurred on the Gold Coast and 26.5 per cent overall were people aged 16-24.

Story by Kirstin Payne – first published in the Gold Coast Bulletin Saturday 3/1/2021.

Published with permission from the Gold Coast Bulletin.

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