Alex Gourley, 16, is happy to be home with his family again, sister Claire (left), mum Jenny and dad Tim and the family dogs, Jewel and Hunny.
Alex Gourley, 16, is happy to be home with his family again, sister Claire (left), mum Jenny and dad Tim and the family dogs, Jewel and Hunny. Jocelyn Watts

Car crash survivor home from rehab

ALEX Gourley clearly remembers the minutes leading up to the crash that changed his life forever.

And, like many others before him, he wishes he could turn back the clock.

If he could relive that November afternoon, he would not stay in the car that was destined to be wrapped around a tree on a lonely dirt road near Maryborough.

And he would try to talk his mate, Rodney Walker, out of letting a 16-year-old learner driver get behind the wheel. It could have been enough to save his mate’s life.

It’s too late now to change history. But it’s never too late for regrets.

Rodney Walker died at the scene of the crash, and Alex, at the tender age of 16, is treading the long, slow and painful path back to having a life that is something like normal.

The events of November 14 ensure it will never be truly normal again. Or, at least, it will never be quite the same.

The promising AFL player and taekwondo black belt had been hanging out with his mates before they left to drive from one house to another.

Alex was not particularly worried when they set out with Rodney behind the wheel.

One boy’s parents could see the danger and banned him from getting in the car.

He was forced to make the trip in his sister’s car – embarrassing, but it might have saved his life.

Alex’s dad, Tim, might have forced him to go in the other car if he had been there. But he wasn’t.

Alex climbed aboard.

A few kilometres down the road they pulled over to let the learner driver take over.

Alex got out, too.

“I hopped out at that point and said ‘I’m not staying in the car’,” he remembers.

“I knew he’d only had his licence from about May.

“I knew he wasn’t experienced and I didn’t trust him.

“But all the other guys assured me we’d be right, that he could drive properly.

“I trusted them because we were all friends and had been for a long time.”

He got back in, – still a little nervous but not scared.

Less than a minute later the inexperienced driver lost control in loose gravel.

He over-corrected and the vehicle went sideways.

Alex remembers seeing the tree rushing towards them.

He also remembers that was the moment he became scared, truly terrified for seconds that seemed like an eternity.

Then the impact ... and nothing.

It took rescuers more than two hours to cut him from the wreckage.

His left ankle and both of his femurs were broken.

The broken bone in his right leg was sticking out near his groin.

It had severed his femoral artery as it tore out of his body.

Alex is not sure why he didn’t bleed to death right there in the mangled wreck.

It could have been worse.

Rodney, who owned the car, was in the front passenger seat.

He died at the scene.

The young driver and two other passengers escaped with minor injuries. Alex survived, just.

Nine weeks later he has just returned to his Maryborough home and still has a long way to go.

He spent the first seven weeks in Royal Brisbane Hospital undergoing extensive surgery and skin grafts.

There are plenty of scars he will have with him forever. And they are just the physical ones.

He spent two weeks at Eden Rehabilitation Centre at Cooroy, learning to walk again.

Between the operations and endless hours of learning to walk again, he has had a lot of time to think about things.

He has heard about the crash that killed five young men in Melbourne less than two weeks ago.

A 15-year-old girl is the only survivor.

Alex cannot help wondering if they all wanted to be in the car.

There are reports it was doing at least 140kmh when it hit a tree.

Did some of those young men want to get out before the car went out of control?

Were they too embarrassed to take a stand?

Sadly, it will not be the last time such a tragedy is in the headlines.

Alex knows how hard it is for a teenager to admit he or she is scared and get out of a car in front of mates.

But he knows it can save a life if he speaks out. “My advice to other kids is that if you don’t feel safe with whoever is driving, get out of the car and get your mum and dad to pick you up,” he says.

“Don’t care about whether your friends think you are a coward.

“Make sure you always wear a seat belt and stick up for yourself.”

Since the accident Alex’s parents, Tim and Jenny, have been dividing their time between home and the hospital.

It has been tough on everyone.

Alex is the couple’s eldest, so they have not been through the nervous years of teenagers and cars before.

Little sister Claire is just 15 and has her whole life ahead of her. They hope she stays safe.

It’s not like Alex hadn’t been warned.

“We’d been warning him about it for years,” says Tim, as he watches his son hobble down the corridor on crutches.

“We always taught him self-preservation, to look after himself first, otherwise he couldn’t look after anyone else.

“He knows he came very close (to dying), enormously close.”

He describes the crash and the weeks that followed as his family’s “worst nightmare”.

“It’s hard to describe how you feel when you get that phone call saying there has been an accident and your son is involved,” he says.

Whatever happens, the family knows 2010 is going to be a tough year.

Alex is not sure if he will get to play AFL or do taekwondo again.

But he’s staying confident.

He has to because it’s going to be a long haul.

But at least he’s alive. His mate isn’t.

If only he could have his time over.

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