When Claire Badger’s young niece and nephews are old enough to drive, she’s going to sit them down and show them a photo of a car that has been mangled beyond recognition. It’s a picture of the vehicle she miraculously walked away from after it hit a power pole and then a tree. The three other people in the car – including the driver, who was drunk – were not so lucky. They all lost their lives.
“I’m going to make them have a long, hard look at it,” says Claire (26). “I want them to know why they shouldn’t drink and drive or get in a car with someone who has been drinking. This is what can happen.”
Claire, from Gisborne, wants to speak out about what has happened to her and her friends to help get the message across about the devastation drink-driving can cause. “People think it won’t happen to them, but it can. I hope I can make even one person stop and think before they get in a car.”
Claire has always been staunchly against drink-driving. She says she would never knowingly get into a car with a driver who has had a few too many, but what happened that Saturday night last July was beyond her control.
The beauty therapist, who recently left her job to train as a nurse, was at a friend’s house with a group of people – including boyfriend Peter Bunyan and mum-of-three Holly Gunn, who was doing the nursing course with her.
Along with Peter’s friend Dylan Kingi, they wanted to go onto another party, but none of them were sober enough to drive. However, a sober driver had been arranged to come and drive Peter’s car for them, so Claire, Holly and Peter got in it, ready to go.
“Then Dylan got in the driver’s seat and we said, ‘Come on, let [the sober person] drive.’ But he refused. He said he was all right, and before we could stop him he started the car and took off.”
Dylan, who had previous drink-driving convictions, was speeding “stupidly fast”, says Claire and although she begged him to pull over, he refused. Then they drove past a police car, which put its lights on and went after them.
“I thought, ‘Oh, thank God for the police, he’ll have to stop,’” she says. “Instead, he just floored it and I realised he was doing a runner. I was so scared. I was pleading with him to stop, but there was no reasoning with him. He thought he was in control.”
They lost the police car and Claire estimates they were doing well over 100km/h when they came to a corner on Nelson Rd, with a 50km/h sign. “I remember the wheels of the car coming off the road and thinking, ‘Oh f*.’ That was it. The next thing I knew there was a nurse leaning over me asking if I knew what had happened.”
Claire, who was sitting behind the driver, has no recollection of the immediate aftermath of the crash, other than the sound of the car’s horn going nonstop. The police – who arrived about a minute after the car hit the power pole, shattering it into three pieces – have since told her they were amazed to see her climbing out of the car.
Claire had no idea Dylan (28), Peter (27) and Holly (25) had all been killed until a doctor broke the terrible news. “I completely lost it – I was howling. It was the lowest point of my life.”
Claire and Peter had been friends for years, but had only been a couple for five months. “He had told his mum the week before that he thought I was ‘the one’, and I loved him too,” says Claire.
Peter, who worked in a vegetable nursery, was a funny and friendly guy who enjoyed his work and was good at it. He loved his family and would go out of his way to help people. “It’s not often that you meet someone who touches your soul like that,” says Claire. “Being around him made me want to be a better person.”
Holly, meanwhile, was bubbly and outgoing, “a cool chick”. “She had three beautiful kids and was a great mother,” says Claire. “Now, they don’t have a mum any more.”
Dylan’s two children are also now fatherless. Claire suffered whiplash and bruising, and six weeks after the crash, she discovered she had been walking around on a broken leg, as well as torn ligaments in her ankle.
“I felt guilty that I was alive,” she says. “Why me? Why am I still here when they aren’t?” She ended up pulling out of the nursing course – which she had been passing with flying colours – because it was too much for her. She’s just returned to working as a beauty therapist and doesn’t know what the future holds.
“I wish we could have stopped Dylan [from driving]. I know he didn’t want to kill anyone. He would have expected to make it around that corner. “What should have just been a normal Saturday night out changed everything – forever.”