On the news, Darren Zmegac was simply described as a 35-year-old Mount Eliza man who sustained non-life-threatening injuries.
But in a split second on May 27, his life was changed irrevocably.
“I was just driving home about to go to bed, thinking about my son who was at the hospital … to sitting on the road, covered in glass, not being able to breathe and watching dead people getting pulled out of a car,” he told The New Daily.
Mr Zmegac was the lucky one. Two other people were killed in the crash. But he lives every day with the consequences of another driver’s decisions.
Facing a long rehabilitation from multiple injuries and the prospect of prolonged financial stress, Mr Zmegac is now pleading for drivers to be more responsible behind the wheel.
It comes as Victoria’s 2019 road toll climbed to 147 by the end of the long weekend – that’s 56 more dead on the roads than the same time last year.
One of the latest fatalities in the state was that of 18-year-old Michael Keating, who died when he was hit by a truck while cycling near Bendigo on Friday.
Australia as a whole is on track for a horror year of crashes, with the provisional number of road deaths across the nation already 40 more than this time last year.
In New South Wales, four people were killed during the Queen’s Birthday weekend.
Yet, victims fear, drivers just don’t care enough to slow down. And innocent people like Mr Zmegac and his family are left to pick up the pieces.
Samantha Zmegac, 29, had been tending to her sick son at Melbourne’s Frankston Hospital the night her husband phoned in a panic.
“I’ve been in an accident. I can’t breathe,” Mr Zmegac told her before hanging up.
Only 15 minutes earlier, they were in the emergency department, comforting their five-year-old son, Chase, after an asthma attack.
Instead of getting home to bed, Mr Zmegac was crouched beside his car and covered in blood, believing he was about to die.
He had been driving on the Nepean Highway on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula about 11.15pm when his 4WD collided head-on with a yellow ute.
The ute driver, Pauly Khaled, 22, and his passenger Kalinda Nheu, 18, died at the scene. Police believe speed was a factor in the smash.
Ms Zmegac was frantically trying to reach her husband, but her calls went unanswered.
After 40 anxious minutes, the call came from an ambulance driver, who informed her Mr Zmegac was being taken to The Alfred hospital.
So she left one emergency department for another, more than 50 kilometres away.
“I honestly had no idea what I was walking into,” she said.
How the fatal crash unfolded
It was a cold, wet night and there was not a car in sight. Mr Zmegac’s 4WD was approaching a bend when suddenly he was dazzled by a bright flash.
From nowhere, an out-of-control ute driving north bounced over the median strip and skidded into the south-bound lanes.
It all happened so fast Mr Zmegac had no time to take his foot off the accelerator.
“I couldn’t breathe in or out. I was just frozen and stuck,” he said.
“The pain was excruciating. It felt like someone was sitting on my chest. I thought I wasn’t going to be able to breathe. I was going to die.”
Someone pulled him from the wreckage and somehow he grabbed his phone the car and called his wife.
Bystanders consoled him while four ambulances, two fire trucks and police arrived.
Ms Zmegac is still shocked by what she saw at the hospital.
“He was covered in his own blood, neck cast on, cords everywhere,” she recalled.
Mr Zmegac had a chipped tooth, fractured sternum and wrist, bleeding on his bowel, a torn bicep and extensive internal bruising.
He said it was a “miracle” he survived.
“The police, the ambulance driver, the hospital, the tow drivers, no one could understand … how I walked away as lucky as I did,” Mr Zmegac said.
It will be at least eight weeks before he can return to work, on doctor’s orders. His income has ceased and he fears he may lose his new job installing glass balustrades on multi-level buildings.
“I’ve just been thrown backwards that far through no fault of my own,” Mr Zmegac said.
“If I didn’t have my sister to lean on, we would be on the street.”
Rocked by the physical, mental and financial damage, the father wants people to realise their actions behind the wheel can have serious, long-lasting consequences.
“Losing the car … the livelihood, the knock-on effect from that is huge,” he said.
The smashed cars should be “displayed on the side of the road” where the accident happened to serve as a reminder of the consequences of not obeying road rules, he suggested.
“People are dying left, right and centre,” Mr Zmegac said.
There have been 430 road deaths across Australia this year as of April, according to the latest road safety statistics. This is 40 higher than the same period last year. In 2018, there were 1141 road deaths.
“My wife was already in the hospital with my son. Imagine getting the call saying your husband is dead,” Mr Zmegac said.