The horror crashes that ‘stay with’ this veteran Gympie cop
“THERE’S the fear, there’s the panic, that’s what stays with you.”
Veteran Gympie police officer Chris Watson has seen it all in his 30 years on the force, and some of it would be a tough task for anyone to deal with.
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22 of those years have been well spent in the Gympie region, where Sgt Watson now ranks as the Officer in Charge of the Wide Bay Burnett District Road Policing Unit.
Since growing up in Warwick, starting his career in Brisbane and making the move to Gympie, Sgt Watson has seen many career highlights and more than his fair share of road trauma.
Still, he said he was surprised to find himself “already” at the 30-year milestone.
“It doesn’t feel like 30 years. I get messages from people saying they can’t believe it’s 30 years, and I can’t either. It’s gone by real quick,” Sgt Watson said.
“I’ve had messages from a lot of people all over the state, a lot of people still within our squad that we went through back in the 90s.
“Traffic was pretty much why I joined. I had a family friend from Townsville in the traffic branch, and I just always had an interest in it.”
That interest in traffic has inevitably brought with it the unenviable challenge of attending countless road tragedies, which Sgt Watson said has never gotten any easier.
“When everything’s over and done with quickly it’s actually a bit easier to deal with, because there’s no suffering,” he said.
“The harder ones are when there’s some pretty serious injuries and people are trapped in vehicles and that sort of thing. They’re the ones that really stick in your mind.
“Like that one out in Imbil the other night, I didn’t go out to it but the young fella’s mum was one of the first responders. Things like that are the hardest.
“When someone loses their life it’s always tragic. The things that stick in my mind are when people are trapped in their cars, and the car might be burning, anything like that. There’s the fear, there’s the panic, that’s what stays with you.”
One memory of a Burnett region fatal crash with children involved is particularly horrible for Sgt Watson to recall.
“I remember one we did go to, the children were in the car, a couple of young kids and they were deceased in the vehicle. Then there was mum in the front, and she’s touch and go as well,” he said.
“She’s trapped, she’s in agony, she knows the kids have died. It’s those ones that stick.
That was … a long time ago, but they’re all pretty fresh.”
For police all over the state, there has been no shortage of confronting road trauma to deal with this year.
The latest Queensland Road Crash Weekly Report lists 31 more deaths on Queensland roads so far this year compared to last, from 125 to 156.
Sgt Watson said highlighting the fatal five contributors to road trauma was as important as ever, with road safety week just around the corner.
“It’s always been the fatal five that has always been the cornerstone of road safety message. But it’s about getting people to really take that on board. It’s a split-second thing that can happen on the road that can change their lives forever, not just for them but a lot of other people as well,” he said.
“I think a lot of people take driving and having a licence as a right, where it’s really a privilege. The majority of people don’t appreciate how quickly it can go bad.”
In being able to process the most disturbing moments he’s faced, Sgt Watson said it was all about finding a healthy balance and getting away from the job at every opportunity.
He said he was lucky to enjoy a good family life, and prioritised health and fitness as key factors in staying fresh.
“I’m lucky. We’ve got a good office here, the work relationships are important. It’s important to have a good home life,” he said.
“It’s trying to make time for yourself to wind down and having that line in the sand between work and home.
“Getting a physical release and staying fit and healthy is important too.”
And what does he love about working and living in Gympie?
“It’s the country feel, and the inclusion with the community. I’ve got three older kids that have pretty much spent their whole lives in Gympie, so now it’s the schools, the friends, the sporting clubs and activities they get involved with.
“It’s a very inclusive type of community.”
Stay tuned for more on Queensland Road Safety Week which starts next Monday, August 24.