'I still blame myself': The fatal mistake that killed woman's husband and daughter

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What was meant to be a family camping trip ended in tragedy with Kerry Norton’s husband and daughter killed right in front of her.

It was November 1997 when Ms Norton, her husband Rick and four-year-old daughter Shani set off with their two dogs from Berwick, in Melbourne’s southeast, to Wilson’s Promontory 2.5 hours away.

Mr Norton had been working long hours and had just finished the night shift – running off just a few hours sleep when they left for their trip. After leaving their home they even had to turn back because they remembered they had forgotten their tent.

Picture of Kerry Ann Norton in 2018 at a book store.
Kerry Norton watched her daughter and husband die after they crashed on the way to a camping trip. Source: Supplied/Kerry Norton

While heading back to their destination, Mr Norton fell asleep at the wheel, hitting a logging truck head-on.

“Fatigue kills,” Ms Norton told Yahoo News Australia.

“An accident happens in a split-second and your eyes can close in a split-second.”

Ms Norton said she finds it hard to comprehend how her daughter was thrown out the back window before being killed instantly.

“As a mother, I blamed, and I still do blame myself every now and again for not driving that day,” she said.

After the car spun out of control following the collision, Ms Norton was thrown down underneath the car, she was conscious for two hours while she remained in the wreck.

People kept coming up to the car – one kind lady reassuring her. “You’ll be okay, you’ll be okay”, but no one could free her.

“I saw beside me, my husband, I knew that he had gone, I knew my daughter had been thrown out,” she said.

Ms Norton was airlifted to Alfred Hospital and the next thing she knew, it was a couple of days later and her parents were by her bedside telling her the fate of her young family.

Old pictures of Shani and Rick Norton in an antique photo frame.
Shani was four-years-old when she died along with her father, Rick. Source: Supplied/Kerry Norton

Ms Norton suffered a broken femur, a broken wrist in six places, a head injury, all her front teeth were broken and her tongue was lacerated, even after nine months of rehabilitation, she says she is still very sore.

She said it took a long time to get “back on track” – to get a job and process what had happened.

Ms Norton’s young daughter Shani had the world at her feet, with just a week prior to the accident learning how to bounce a basketball and eager to begin kindergarten. Her husband is still remembered as a hard worker and dedicated father.

‘He said he’ll never get over that car crash’

A year-and-a-half later, Ms Norton met with the police officer who tended to the scene on November 11.

“He broke down crying and hugged me and he said he never, ever, will get over that car crash. Ever,” Ms Norton said, remembering how the same police officer said the “kindest words” to her as he tried to rescue her.

The experience has given Ms Norton an enormous amount of respect the fire brigade, the air ambulance group and the police.

Following the crash, Ms Norton said she struggled to find the right support for her.

She couldn’t find counsellors who could relate to her and although she has respect for healthcare professionals, for her recovery she needed to speak with people who could properly understand.

It took Ms Norton about three or four years to start talking with people – one of the people she confided in was a man she met a the Berwick Hotel.

“He was really good for me to talk to,” Ms Norton says of her second husband, explaining after the crash she “sort of put a barrier up”.

Together, Ms Norton and her second husband had a child, Kai, who is now 16-years-old.

“Little Kai is my pride and joy now,” Ms Norton said.

“His dad unfortunately passed away from lung cancer in 2011, so I am raising Kai on my own, with the help of his siblings. He’s just my world.”

Pictured is Kerry Norton and her second husband Neil with their son Kai as he blows out birthday candles.
Kerry was once again widowed when her husband Neil passed away from cancer, leaving her to raise their son Kai (right). Source: Supplied/Kerry Norton

Mum’s vital road crash message

For about 13 to 14 years, Ms Norton has been a passionate volunteer for Road Trauma Support Services Victoria.

She advocates on behalf of the organisation because she is passionate about preventing what happened to her from happening again.

Through Road Trauma Support Services Victoria, Ms Norton advocates for people to take care on the road.

She makes sure her family members never drive while they’re tired, and she shares her story to encourage others to be responsible while behind the wheel.

“If you’re getting behind the wheel, or if you know someone who you’re sitting beside is fatigued, offer, ‘Can I drive for you?’, or vice versa, ask, ‘Should I be driving?” Ms Norton says.

“Especially to drink drivers. If your friend has drunk too much, it’s your responsibility to let them know not to get behind the wheel.”

Her message is to remind people all it takes is a split second.

“You can kill someone and go to jail, or you can lose a family member, or two like I did, my husband and my daughter, in a split second.”

Pictured is an old photograph of Kerry Norton hugging her four-year-old daughter Shani.
Kerry Norton said Shani had the world at her feet and the four-year-old was eager to start school. Source: Supplied/Facebook

Ms Norton still lives in Berwick, where she is watching the children who went on to start kindergarten in 1998 – the class her daughter should have graduated with – now start families of their own.

“People still come up and hug me, and things like that,” Ms Norton said.

“Because they know how much pain and suffering I’ve gone through, and the loss I’ve gone through from an event that was caused by road trauma.”

Ms Norton encourages everyone to be safe on the road and to “look after one another”.

“My mission of 2020 is to love everyone,” she said.

“Especially with all these bushfires at the moment and all the horrible loss that is going on at the moment. We don’t need to add to it road trauma.

Stay off your mobile phones when you’re driving, make sure you don’t drink drive, make sure you don’t speed and fatigue – it kills.

“But if this does unfortunately happen to someone, reach out to your family, a road trauma support group, anything that will help you get through, don’t do it alone.”

Road Trauma Support Services Victoria offers free information and counselling to anyone impacted by a transport collision incident by calling 1300 367 797 or visiting www.rtssv.org.au

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