But when she wrote at length about the incident that led to Bryan’s death in a BBC article titled, The day I accidentally killed a little boy, she unleashed a wave of incredible stories from people with similar experiences behind the wheel.
It comes after the New South Wales holiday road toll more than doubled in 2017 in its second consecutive year of growth.
Heartbreaking scenes took place on Wednesday to farewell the three members of the Falkholt family who died in a tragic head-on crash on the NSW south coast on Boxing Day. Sole survivor of the crash, Home and Away star Jessica Falkholt, 28, continues to cling to life after undergoing numerous surgeries in a critical but stable condition.
Maryann was a 22-year-old graduate in 1977 when she was on a rural motorway in the United States travelling at around 80km/h. Following the flow of cars, she passed a row of houses whose mailboxes were on the opposite side of the street.
“As I passed the houses a little blond boy darted out, moving from the mailbox to his house. I saw him at the last second. I tried to swerve. There was no way to miss him,” Maryann wrote. “I hit the little boy and he flew up into the air and then landed on the pavement. I pulled over and ran across the street.
“I was so distressed that I don’t really remember those minutes. I was hiding behind a bush and screaming. I heard myself and I thought, “What is that? Who’s doing that?”
“And then I realised it was me.”
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The boy received first aid on the road by bystanders before police arrived 20 minutes later and put him in the back of a police car.
Residents of the properties had alerted the mother of the little boy who “came out of her house screaming her son’s name in agony”. “She wanted to go to him but the neighbours held her back. Then she started to collapse on her front stoop and they had to hold her up,” Maryann wrote.
Shattered, Maryann approached the police with her hand up and told them “I did it, I did it”. She was placed in the back of a police car where police took a statement and delivered the news: “I just have to tell you the boy died.”
— BBC News (World) (@BBCWorld) January 9, 2018
That moment changed Maryann forever in ways one could never imagine. While she was not arrested, she punished herself over the course of decades.
It started with small things; little notes in the back of her mind, like believing what she had done meant she was a “dangerous person”.
But then it got worse. She stopped driving for two years. She used to hallucinate and had flashbacks when doing the dishes of the little boy “flying through the air after I hit him, or a puddle of blood on the road”.
She dated men who treated her badly, thinking that by punishing herself she was doing right. When she married, in her 30s, she never told her husband what she had done. She pushed friends away. Became irritable.
Brian became Maryann’s ghost, a voice in her head she heard constantly, holding her back.
“I thought about Brian the day I got married. I thought about Brian the day my father died. I thought about Brian the day I defended my dissertation. I thought about Brian the day I started a new job. He lived with me,” she wrote.
“His voice in my mind became this very punitive, angry voice that would say: ‘Don’t get too happy, remember what happened the last time you got happy? You killed a child, you killed me.’”
Days after the accident, Maryann said she had a vision which told her she was never able to have a baby. Despite the fact she was “the most in-demand babysitter in the neighbourhood”, she gave up her right as a mother after she took a “child from its mother”.
“I didn’t think I would be a good mother, so I decided against having children which is a huge regret, but was the right decision for me. I think I would have had a very hard time mothering,” she wrote.
Years later she decided to send a letter to Brian’s mother. She needed to apologise. To break through. Despite the death of Brian’s mother, the letter made it to Brian’s older brother, who had read the letter and found her online.
“It was an emotional conversation. He was very angry, he told me how much his family had suffered,” she wrote.
“They had stopped celebrating Christmas because it was too close to Brian’s birthday and all the usual happy family occasions were muted for them forever. They never changed Brian’s room, they kept it the same, so there was a constant reminder of their son.
“When we got off the phone I certainly didn’t feel like we were friends but I felt like we had this amazing bond, because we were still mourning this child, and we will always have that in common.
“I do forgive myself, but I’m terrified that I’ll hurt somebody else. I live in Los Angeles and I drive all the time, but I’m very cautious.”
Unexpectedly, countless others have taken to Maryann’s website, Accidental Impacts, to share their story. Turns out, when Maryann finally talked about it, she found others just like her, countless stories of others in the same situation left in the comment sections. Posting their stories to Maryann’s page, they highlighted the devastation that affects not only victims and families, but drivers as well.
These are just some of their stories left as comments on her blog:
‘I HIT AND KILLED A WOMAN TODAY’
My Name is Heather. I was involved in a car accident this early morning at 4am as I went to pick up my son from his work. While driving down a highway I hit and killed a women who walked out in front of the car in dark clothing on a dark street. I did not see her at all until I felt and heard a thump and saw her body crash into my windshield.
I screamed and stopped the car. The woman was unconscious crumpled on the ground with blood coming out of her head. I finally got 911 and the dispatch was asking me what the cross street was and I did not know. I kept on screaming, “I hit a women she needs help I don’t know the street!”
I was questioned by the police who were professional and kind. The medics tried to save her but she died at the scene. The officers told me it was not my fault and there was nothing I could do to prevent it from happening. This women did not deserve to die and I did not deserve to be the one to cause her death. That is the thought that runs through my brain. The image of her will be seared in my heart and brain for life.
‘WHEELS WERE SPINNING FURIOUSLY’
It will be three years this May since I accidentally caused the death of a 28-year-old boy, in the prime of his life, preparing to get married.
I was driving home from work on a Friday evening and I decided to take the flyover, a six-lane highway where people always drive way beyond the speed limit. The third lane on both sides of the flyover acts as a shoulder one can stop on for emergencies, flat tires and such.
On that evening, while driving home, I wasn’t feeling too good and I decided to stop for five minutes in the third lane. I switched on my hazard lamps and stopped. Several seconds passed with cars and bikes passing me in high speed.
Then I heard this huge bang and felt a jerk and I couldn’t for a second understand what had happened. A bike was stuck to the back of my car, its wheels spinning furiously. I ran around the car to look for the biker. I saw his backpack lying a few feet in front of my car. A couple of people had stopped and were looking over the side of the wall on to the road about 50 feet below. It dawned on me then and with absolute trepidation I walked over and looked down. The biker had flown off his bike and fallen to the road below and was writhing in pain. It was terrible.
The next day I found out the biker succumbed to his injuries. The days that followed were a daze of visits to the police station, hospital, cops interrogating me, curious friends coming over to hear the story. I barely got out of bed.
I am often haunted by those memories, things I should have done and should not have done. Thinking that if I hadn’t taken the flyover he would still be alive. If only I hadn’t stopped.
His death haunts me. I stalk his Facebook profile and see comments posted by his friends and family and feel immense guilt. Giving up driving for good seems like the least of a tribute I could offer for Balaji (that was his name). I feel like I’m a menace on the road. With such volatile situations on the road, I never know what could happen. I’m terrified that I might cause another accident.
‘SHE WAS HOLDING ME IN HER ARMS’
I was 9 years old going home in the evening from a violin lesson to cross a busy road. I stood on the pavement waiting for the lights to go red as it was green. That was the last thing I remembered. I was coming in and out of consciousness and seeing a paramedic, the hospital, my dad and then being at home late [at] night.
What happened was that I had fainted on to the road and an oncoming car hit me. Miraculously, I was not badly injured but my [ankle] was sprained and bruised that was all. For me, all I could think about was the young lady, who could have been the driver, was holding me in her arms crying and rocking uncontrollably, and I just caught a glimpse of her face when I passed out — I will never forget that image for the rest of my life
‘MY BODY WENT THROUGH THE WINDSCREEN’
When I was 14, I was hit by a car while riding my bike. It was on a major road and the car was travelling nearly 100kms an hour, which was within the speed limit. I was badly injured. The driver and his daughter were also injured as my body went through the windscreen. And the truth of it, it was my fault. I rode straight across the road without looking. The driver and his daughter were distraught. They came to visit me in hospital but I was unconscious. When I had recovered I visited them to apologise. I wanted them to know it was my fault and that I was sorry for the distress I caused.
‘MY BROTHER WAS BACKED OVER BY A TRUCK’
My little brother was backed over by a truck when he was just 18 months old. We were at a picnic and my dad didn’t realise that my brother had toddled behind him across a gravel parking lot. By the grace of God, my brother survived and sustained no serious injuries that day. It was just luck that the loose gravel provided some cushion that he sunk down into when the weight of the truck rolled over him.
I witnessed the accident, but being only four at the time, I don’t remember a lot of detail first-hand. What I do remember after hearing my mom retell this story so many times over the years, is that the first thing my mom did after finding out my brother would be okay was call the driver’s mom.
The driver was a 16 year old boy, the son of a friend, who had just gotten his license. It wasn’t his fault — there was no way he could have seen my brother behind his truck before he backed up. But I always thought it was pretty great that my mom’s immediate thought was to make sure that young man knew that my brother was okay. I think about him sometimes and realise that the story we have lived with all these years is also his story.
— Accidental Impacts is a website run by Maryann Gray that offers information and support for people trying to cope with causing a serious accident. For more information, visit accidentalimpacts.org.