Carla Louisa Howell – 17 years old

Carla was a passenger in a motor vehicle driven by Edward Gambrill. The car hit a tree at 1.10am on the 23rd of December, 2006. Carla died as a result of massive injuries sustained in that collision.

Family Victims
Sonya Howell, Carla’s Mother
Trevor Howell, Carla’s Father
Rhys Howell, Carla’s Brother
Carla’s Grandparents, Uncles,
Aunts and cousins

Carla Louisa Howell

Edward Gambrill

Carla Louisa Howell died as a result of massive head injuries sustained at 1.10am on the 23rd December, 2006. Carla was pronounced dead on Christmas Eve, 2006.

My name is Sonya Howell, I am Carla’s Mother, and I must summon all my strength to convey to you the life altering devastation that the death of my beloved and only daughter has caused me and her family.

On the 23rd of December, 2006 Carla was a passenger in Edward Gambrill’s car which was being driven by him. The car left the road and crashed into a tree.

From that moment on our lives dramatically changed and would never be the same ever again. My life as I had known it was gone forever.

I was told the horrendous details of how our precious girl had sustained massive head injuries, over the phone at 2.30am on December 23rd, 2006. The police rescue also advised that our daughter would be arriving at the hospital in 12 minutes. This call was taking place as my darling daughter was being flown over her family home on the way to John Hunter Hospital in the Westpac Rescue Helicopter.

The only thing keeping me from complete hysteria was the strength of motherhood and the desperate need to get to the hospital, this was every parent’s worst nightmare and it was happening to us, a thought I was trying desperately not to believe.

The horrific drive to the hospital was filled with feelings of disbelief mixed with pleading to God to save our precious girl.

Our worst fears were realised when the Doctor told us that Carla would need immediate surgery to release pressure on her brain. Our descent into a nightmare world had begun. Carla’s condition was critical and her chances of survival were not good.

After the operation my precious girl spent the next 39 hours in Intensive Care on life support. For these 39 desperate hours Trevor, Rhys and I watched, prayed, pleaded and begged with God to let our beautiful Carla open her eyes and breathe on her own.

Then there was the Doctors conference where they spoke to us of blunt head injury, no chance of survival and of organ donation.

Words cannot begin to explain the anguish of such a moment when permission was being sought  for the removal of our precious girl’s organs, while she was being supported by machines. We were puzzled, resentful  and angry about why or how doctors could be speaking of such an unthinkable thing when our daughter was only 17 years old.

My personal legacy of organ donation is something that haunts me every day.  I remain filled with  uncertainty as to whether we should have insisted on keeping the life support on, in case a miracle might have taken place & Carla responded & came back to us.  We hear of other cases where the miracle did occur.  What if we acted too soon?  I try to push these thoughts away, but they are persistent.

The decision to approve the donation was made knowing that it was something Carla had wanted.   We never, ever imagined that we would ever have to give final consent.  This decision, this process rips me apart daily.  My mind goes back to that cruel moment, that terrible decision that robbed my daughter of a chance at life.  She was so young and had so much life to be lived but it was all going to end.  By our decision.

On Christmas Eve 2006 Carla gave the “Ultimate Gift”, The gift of life! The organ retrieval ended at 6pm & our Daughter’s life ended. Leaving the hospital & walking away from my baby girl on 24th December was the hardest moment of my life.

On Christmas Day 2006 Carla’s heart, lungs and kidneys gave renewed life to four recipients. Their lives and ours were changed dramatically and forever.

Carla’s Private Funeral was held on the 29th December, 2006 for immediate family only.  The pain, heartache, numbness and anguish was already too great to bear and I was expected to cope with yet more unbelievable torment. Thoughts of having to live my life without my precious daughter was as if the reason for life had gone – the future was gone, the present was empty and all that remained was the past.  Everyday seems so  intense and  overwhelming – grief , heartache and despair with desperate feelings of what is yet to come.  A life without this beautiful child, the greatest blessing and love of my life.

There is no area of my life and that of Carla’s Father, Brother and family that is untouched by the death of my beautiful and loving daughter. My precious girl was wrenched from us all too soon.

I have seen my son Rhys overcome with unhappiness, his grief so unbearable that he has left home to try to find happiness away from the gloom of a place he once shared wonderful times with his loved sister.  I suspect he feels overwhelmed by my grief and knowing no other person can fill that hole in my heart.  It would be the same if it had been him taken from me, but he cannot truly know that when all he can see is my pain.

I find myself wandering aimlessly through the house & eventually find that I am back in my daughter’s room. I sense her presence everywhere in our home, where she lived, which is now so lonely without her light, love & energy.  Her room is just as she left it on that dreaded disastrous night.

My health and lifestyle have suffered greatly and I was unable to return to my job for twelve months. This was due to stress and my inability to face my work environment. My work as a nurse in Aged Care is extremely difficult and tortuous especially when faced with the impending and eventual death of a resident that I am caring for.

Sleeping is spasmodic and there has not been one night that I have slept through since we lost her. I continually wake hoping that this tragedy has been a very bad dream, not wanting to accept the reality that we have lost her forever.

No parent should ever have to survive their children.

I also have no control over the pain and despair I feel when seeing other girls Carla’s age enjoying their lives, knowing that Carla will never experience what they and their families can look forward to. Carla never experienced her 18th Birthday, nor will she celebrate her 21st Birthday, plan her wedding or know the joy of having children. Her acceptance into University arrived one month after her death. These are all milestones of life that I will never share with my precious Carla because they were taken from us suddenly and very tragically with devastating repercussions.

I have become a prisoner in unbearable grief – a type of pain I never imagined before, for example I am simply unable to visit places Carla and I frequented, shopping centres, her favourite shops and many other places where we spent special lovely times together as mothers & daughters do.  There will be no more shared adventures, or gleefully showing our purchases and revisiting the fun we had.

I can’t look at newspaper classifieds and read the notices of proud parents announcing their children’s special events. Holidays are just memories – we will never spend time together again.

I dread gatherings of people especially those who I know and in whose company I once found joy because of shared happy times between Carla and myself.

Christmas, a time that for our family was always one of  joyful tradition and family love and happiness is now a time of sickening misery and dread, of reliving a parents greatest fear, the loss of a child.   New Year is the start of another year without Carla.

This is our tragic and awful reality made infinitely worse because for others it’s a time of  celebration.  We are now not part of normal life.

It might sound trivial but the first extreme challenge I face is making myself get out of bed each a day.  It is so arduous, I do not want to.  I want to stay there and hide from a life that has become an unrelenting, unending cycle of misery without Carla. I struggle every day to convince myself I must do it.

Part of the ordeal of a sudden, tragic death is the legal and court processes you are forced into, but mainly as just an onlooker.  For example, the continued adjournment of this court case has greatly added to me, my family, my friends and Carla’s friends’ distress.  It’s like we are all being dragged along, without any relief or even the possibility of some sort of closure until this is settled.  Each adjournment means all the planning and preparation has been for nothing, and we must do it all again. Carla didn’t have any choice about the timing.  She was taken whether she was ready or not.  It doesn’t seem very fair, it doesn’t feel like justice.

All my energy goes into working out survival strategies for myself, my family & friends to get through each day without, her to brighten up our lives. I will walk and talk and look like I did before Carla’s death but I will never be the same. I am shattered. There is no counselling, no strategies, and no intervention that can mend my broken heart. That is the impact I have been left with after the senseless loss of my daughter in this road crash.


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