It was 3.37am on October 20, 2012.
A point in time that is now permanently etched in the memory of Sydney woman Kate Fitzsimons.
For it was the exact moment she received a phone call that would change her life forever.
“My heart sank when I realised it was my mum,” Kate told Yahoo News Australia.
Her sister Nicole had been involved in a serious motorcycle crash on the Thai island of Koh Samui.
“Immediately from those words my life was never the same. My whole life shattered,” Kate recalled.
Three hours later, she received another call. Nicole had succumbed to her injuries and died in hospital.
It had only been hours earlier Kate had been looking on in envy at her sister’s holiday photos. Now she was facing the prospect of bringing her body back to Australia.
Nicole and her boyfriend Jamie were using a motorbike to get around the island and were turning into their hotel after dinner at a nearby restaurant when another rider tried to overtake them at speed.
As the couple began to turn, the approaching motorbike slammed into theirs.
Nicole suffered extensive head injuries and could not be saved through emergency surgery.
She wasn’t wearing a helmet.
“As soon as we lost her I said this isn’t how the story is going to end, she’s not dying in vain,” Kate said.
“Nicole was too special of a person to let her life go to waste like this on the roads from the careless actions of someone else.”
Following the accident the family were frustrated by the legal process and the case never made it to court.
For Kate, Nicole was not only her big sister but also her best friend.
“She was passionate, she was brave, she was kind,” she recalled.
A lifelong rugby league fan, Nicole had recently completed her first year working behind the scenes of Channel Nine’s The Footy Show and had a promising career in sports journalism ahead of her.
“She was always the living the epitome of life is short, you’ve got to do what you love,” her sister said.
But in a tragic and cruel twist of fate, Nicole ended up living her mantra all too literally. She lost her life at the tender age of 24.
The deadliest roads around the world Australians are losing their lives on
Kate frantically began researching other deaths of Australians in Thailand and in South East Asia and it quickly became apparent motorcycle crashes featured heavily. Worryingly not wearing a helmet was also a recurring detail.
“Thailand ranks among the deadliest roads in the world... how did we not know this?” Kate questioned.
“Had my sister known these statistics, known the facts, heard a story like her own, she would never have gotten on that bike.”
Or at the very least she would have worn a helmet, Kate insists.
In the year 2018 to 2019, the Department of Foreign Affairs supported families of 1,695 Australians who died overseas.
Of those, 158 were caused by accidents – many on foreign, unfamiliar roads.
Four of the top five countries (Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam) for number of deaths were in South East Asia – nations synonymous with travelling by scooter or motorcycle.
Nicole Fitzsimons Foundation’s harrowing message to save just one more life
Kate was desperate to raise awareness on the alarming, yet under-publicised problem in a bid to ensure no family had to go through what she and her family endured.
“I thought if I could just save one life – it could be someone else’s sister that they wish was coming home,” she said.
She found a number of contributing factors often led to Australians getting on motorcycles and scooters abroad and not wearing a helmet.
Safety laws and standards were far more lax in South East Asian countries and visitors were able to easily rent vehicles without a licence. With the thrill of being able to do something you wouldn’t necessarily be able to do in Australia, safety regularly gets forgotten about, according to Kate.
“You can get so complacent because it’s such a fun and exciting time, victims can think they’re invincible and that it won’t happen to them,” she told Yahoo News Australia.
Kate and her family knew they needed to change the mentality of young Australians heading abroad and decided to set up the Nicole Fitzsimons Foundation as an avenue to connect with travellers and get their message across.
CCTV of Nicole’s death brings children to tears
With Kate’s drive and passion – fuelled by memories of her sister forever etched onto her brain – the family has managed to reach thousands of young Australians through several awareness projects, notably travelling to schools across the country and presenting to students.
While obviously distressing for the family, Kate is insistent on showing anyone who is willing to watch the CCTV of the crash which claimed Nicole’s life.
“When [the students] see her taken before their eyes in that accident, you’ve got 17 and 18-year-old boys even moved to tears,” she said.
“Of course I hate seeing it but it helps no one if I keep it hidden away. It’s something you can’t watch without it staying with you for a long, long time.”
Kate said she often reminds students what a family and circle of friends goes through when you lose a loved one – something she believes young Australians rarely comprehend as they are led astray by other distractions.
“Teens and twenty-somethings where you’re getting some of your first opportunities to travel on your own you can get complacent and you do get that natural instinct to impress your friends or be the cool kid taking that risk,” she said.
“I want to change the mentality from ‘you’re so cool driving without a helmet’ to ‘you’re an idiot, didn’t you hear about that poor girl’ and everything like that.”
Kate says she has had an overwhelming response from young Australians who are willing to pledge they will never get on a motorcycle or scooter without a helmet.
The Nicole Fitzsimons Foundation’s work was recognised by the Department of Foreign Affair and Trade’s Smart Traveller, who now support the work Kate and her small team are doing to raise awareness.
Her work has been so successful, she is currently embarking on a US tour taking her message around the world.
Wearing a helmet saved Australian’s life
While seeing Australians make headlines when involved in motorcycle accidents abroad obviously evokes strong emotions for Kate, there is however a silver lining when survivors remembered to wear a helmet – a nod that her tireless work is making a difference.
The 32-year-old is believed to have veered from the road after driving through an oil spill, sustaining critical head injuries and was placed in a coma at a Kuta hospital.
He was wearing a helmet when he crashed.
“It definitely saved his life,” Mr Hickman’s sister Brooke Parker told Yahoo News Australia.
While his wedding to his wife-to-be Tam was cancelled, his family are just glad he managed to survive.
“We’re just incredibly grateful he’s still here today,” Ms Parker said.
When asked what her advice would be to travellers considering hiring scooters abroad, her response was certainly definitive.
Ms Parker said if holidaymakers were insisted on renting motorcycles, it was vital they wear helmets, regardless of their ability to drive a motorcycle.
“Just be very careful. It may not necessarily be you but others on the road,” she said.
And unsurprisingly, Kate echoes her sentiment.
“My main message is if you wouldn’t do it here in Australia don’t do it overseas.
“You wouldn’t dream of getting on a motorbike on Australia without a helmet so certainly don’t do it over there.”
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