Sarah Frazer case: families struggle with their loss

Shattered lives. Nightmares. Images of broken bodies. A loving family without one of its daughters. Four boys without their father.

Sarah Frazer who who was killed on the Hume Highway two years ago.

Sarah Frazer who who was killed on the Hume Highway two years ago.

The grim and long-lasting effects of the horrific accident which took the lives of 23-year-old Springwood student Sarah Frazer and tow-truck driver Geoff Clark on the Hume Highway near Mittagong two years ago were played out in the NSW District Court last Friday.

Three victim impact statements were read to Judge Stephen Hanley as he considered what sentence to impose on Kaine Daniel Barnett, 27, the driver of the truck which hit the pair as Sarah’s broken-down car was being loaded onto the tow truck on February 15, 2012.

Barnett was last month found guilty of two counts of dangerous driving causing death.

In a Sydney court, Peter and Judy Frazer struggled to maintain their composure and frequently wept as they shared the reading of their statement. 

Mrs Frazer spoke of their “incredibly sensible and dedicated” daughter who had celebrated the 21st birthday of one of her brothers three days before she left for Wagga. “Sarah was in her element that night. She was truly a beautiful person both inside and out.”

Sarah had spent the six years after leaving school working hard to save money to indulge in her great passion — travel.

She had finally enrolled in a course at Charles Sturt University which she hoped would lead to a career as a photojournalist. It was as she was driving to Wagga Wagga to start her studies that her car broke down.

Mr Frazer, who had planned to drive down with Sarah’s furniture the following day, had suggested they could drive down together. 

“But she said, ‘Dad, I’ve looked after myself through Third World countries. You don’t have to look after me — I’m only going to Wagga,’” he told the court.

On the day of the accident, Sarah called to say her car had broken down, but rang again with the “good news” that the tow-truck driver would take her all the way to Wagga.

Mr Frazer, unaware of the accident, left a number of messages for his daughter during the afternoon, including one at 4.30pm telling her he had found somewhere in Wagga to get the car fixed.

“I didn’t know she had been dead for four hours,” he said. “Thinking of these calls still haunts me every day.”

Mrs Frazer said when the police came to tell her about the accident, “I collapsed to the floor and totally broke down”. It was her “worst imaginable nightmare”.

Mr Frazer did not know until he arrived home from work “and I could hear everyone inside crying. My beautiful wife was howling her eyes out. I fell to the floor screaming and crying. I felt as if part of me had been violently ripped out ... and I have never recovered.”

Even worse was to follow: the tow truck had a dashboard camera which recorded the crash and the pair “being shattered into pieces on that Hume Highway”, Mr Frazer said.

“To actually see the video of my daughter being killed will stay with our family and friends for the rest of our lives.”

“We have lost the ability to enjoy our lives like we used to and we no longer seem to be able to experience joy in our lives,” Mr Frazer said.

And Mrs Frazer concluded: “Life will never be the same for us ever again.”

Earlier Sarah’s grandmother, Patricia, spoke of her memories of Sarah. 

“The golden curls falling across one eye, her warm smile ... and her bright future that is now never to be. My heart aches every time I look at an empty chair at the kitchen table.”

Mr Clark’s wife, Samantha, also made a statement, which was read to the court by a friend. The couple had been together for more than 15 years and had four young school-aged sons.

After Mrs Clark heard the news, she couldn’t tell her boys and police had to do so for her.

“How does a mother tell her children that their father has been taken from them and in such a horrific manner... All our hopes and dreams for the future have been taken away.” 

The court heard that Barnett must have been distracted for up to eight seconds not to have seen the pair earlier and taken evasive action. He was not affected by alcohol or drugs and there was no suggestion he had been using a mobile phone.

Mr Frazer has since started the SARAH campaign for safer Australian roads and highways, to “make something good come from her death”, he has said. He was also named Blue Mountains citizen of the year in 2013. In so many public appearances since Sarah was killed he has put on a brave face; in court last Friday he revealed just how much he suffers.

Barnett will be sentenced in Parramatta District Court on April 24.