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Moving on from fight of a lifetime

Warren Carter died when his car was hit by an army Unimog at Ashhurst in August 2017. PHOTOS/FILE

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Joan Carter says she’s “gobsmacked” at the way she reacted to her husband Warren’s death after the couple’s car was hit by an army Unimog truck driven by a trainee who failed to stop at an intersection near Ashhurst in August 2017.

Joan Carter

Joan was in the passenger seat at the time but escaped serious injury.

But she has spent the nearly 18 months since working to get the army to acknowledge their failings in communicating with the family.

Last week the army made a public apology.

Joan says she looks in the mirror these days and sees a different person.

“I’m gobsmacked at the way I’ve fought for this,” she said last week. “I’ve never really fought for anything in my life.

“Warren was the fighter. I was more likely to be in the back seat holding him back.”

But Joan and the couple’s six children – three boys and three girls — were united in what they wanted to happen.

“We were determined that the army wouldn’t blame the driver – and that no other family would go through what we did after the accident.”

She feels she’s achieved that, with the army saying it has changed its processes to be more responsive to civilian families in the event of future incidents.

“I feel I’ve done what the whole family set out to achieve,” she says.

Joan is not the sort of person to be public in her grief, but she has gone through a lot in private – nightmares about huge trucks, and sleepless nights.

“People said I was strong, but I was private,” she said last week.

“The physical pain eased away after a few weeks but the nightmares of a huge truck coming towards us continued.

“If it had been a viable option, I would have just stayed up 24/7. I instinctively knew I would get through, but the daily grind was often another matter. I rediscovered meditation and slowly sleep became the restorative gift my body and mind needed.”

She says two qualities surfaced after Warren’s death she was not aware she possessed – forgiveness and strength.

“I am still amazed that I instinctively held no bitterness or blame towards the young driver of that army truck.”

The driver, Dayne Pennington, admitted a charge of careless driving causing death, and with the support of Joan was discharged without conviction.

She hugged Pennington at the court appearance in February last year, and not for the first time.

“When I was pulled out of the car I just went up to him and gave him a hug. He was saying over and over ‘I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry’.

“In those first minutes I didn’t even know he was under instruction and training – I just saw a young man who could have been one of my sons and I think my hug to him was for my sons as much as for him.”

Joan was not offered a restorative justice meeting, but nevertheless asked for one, attended with her daughter Nikki.

“Nikki and I were both nervous going into that meeting but also very aware that the driver and his partner would be even more so; having to face us.

“It was a positive and healing experience for us all and I walked out even more determined that I would fight to ensure he was discharged without conviction.”

Warren Carter

Warren naturally remains a big part of her life – and there are still times of tears.

“There’ll be a song he liked on the radio . . . Warren loved to sing.

“He was a terrible singer, but he loved to sing all the time.”

Notwithstanding her efforts to maintain pressure on the army, Joan says there is no question it would have felt even more if she had been the one who died in the crash.

“The army awakened a strength in me with their inability to be human and I was always aware that Warren would have taken them on, at full speed and volume, if it had been me who died that day.

“They have no understanding of how lucky they have been to avoid his tenacity and vigour.”

Joan says she now feels “much stronger and more confident, and at the same time, more vulnerable”.

“I’m aware of the sadness and grief in the world which previously had only been in my peripheral vision. I think I both laugh and cry more easily now and accept each day as a gift rather than a given.

“Saying goodbye to loved ones is no longer a simple gesture – the reality of life stopping in an instant makes every hello and goodbye something to value.”

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