The Roberts family can remember every heart-wrenching detail of the night their daughter and sister, Fay, died. The knock at the door in the middle of the night, the sawdust covering the blood on the road, the crying and screaming. The memories are so strong, it makes it hard to continue on with life.
Fay (25) had been killed not by a stranger, but because her boyfriend had tried to dangerously overtake another car at speed. Their vehicle slammed head on into another car on a long, straight highway in east Auckland.
Ruby Roberts, Fay’s 15-year-old sister, woke that night to the sound of screaming. She walked downstairs to find police officers standing over her father, Harvey, who had collapsed on the floor.
For his part in the accident, Felipe Gacitua – Fay’s boyfriend of two years – was sentenced in October to three years in jail after pleading guilty to reckless driving causing death and reckless driving causing injury.
Adding to the pain of their loss, the Robertses are coming to terms with discovering Felipe had been driving erratically in the months leading up to the accident, crashing his car at the same junction just 10 days before the smash that killed Fay. That time he needed a local farmer with a tractor to pull him out of a ditch.
“Fay was talking to her friends and telling them about Felipe’s driving,” says Harvey. “We were given this information after [the crash]. Now it’s just a whole lot of ‘what ifs’. “If I’d known, I could have pulled him to one side and talked to him. I just don’t know.”
Forgiveness is still a difficult word for the Robertses, but despite the accident Fay’s mum Karen and Harvey are convinced Felipe is a good person who made a mistake. “I get so confused about him,” Karen says in floods of tears. “We know him. We know that the environment he’s going into is horrible.
“There are times that if I walked past him I’d want to punch him in the nose. “Those are the times that Ruby’s struggling at school, or when I see the pain she and her brother Sam (24) are going through. But when I see him in court, I feel sorry for him.”
Although the whole family has been left scarred and dazed after Fay’s death – their family business was almost ruined and Christmas is no longer a celebration – the ordeal has been hardest on Ruby.
Although it’s difficult for her to talk about losing her sister, Ruby (now 16) wanted to speak to the Weekly about her sister’s tragic death in an effort to make people understand that while it was Fay who lost her life, the actions of one individual have destroyed an entire family.
“I’m not really coping with the whole thing,” says Ruby softly. “I’m not doing well at school any more. I try to study, but my mind is somewhere else. “I know it’s been over a year since she was killed, but it only feels like last month.”
All Ruby has now are memories of her “special” older sister. “As a joke, she used to burn me with the teaspoon she mixed her tea with,” she smiles. “She did it all the time. When I think about it now, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.”
“Ruby is angry and upset,” says Harvey. “She’s been having these dreams where Fay’s trying to kick in the bedroom door, and of her hugging Ruby.”
Now facing the task of rebuilding their lives and their family without Fay, the Robertses also have to cope with the ripple effect of her death, including financial pressures – the family’s hairdressing business, which Fay worked for, has proved almost too painful to continue with.
“It’s like going into Fay’s bedroom,” Karen says. “There’s just too much of her there. It was a family business. How can we keep doing it without her? “We can’t even sit around the family table any more. It’s too different.”
Even though they’re a family that’s barely functioning, Harvey, Karen, Sam and Ruby are determined for some good to come out of Fay’s tragedy. “We’re just an average family. We’re nothing special. We’re just like every other person on this street,” says Karen. “But people need to know these things. If we can get just one person to listen, another mum, to think about when their kids walk out the door, to tell them to drive safely.”
Ruby is contemplating joining the police force after she leaves school to persuade teens to think about their driving. “If people find themselves in a car with someone driving silly, they should be brave enough and have the confidence to tell them to stop or get out of the car,” she says.
“Young people have so much life to live and it shouldn’t be wasted and destroyed for a few seconds of showing off.”