It’s the knock on the door nobody wants to receive. But one officer has revealed how he tells families that a loved one has died on our roads.
It’s the knock on the door nobody wants to receive. But one officer has revealed how he tells families that a loved one has died on our roads.

Death messenger: A cop's most heartbreaking job

A POLICE officer who spent two years as a forensic crash investigator has detailed his harrowing procedure for delivering a "death message".

Sergeant Steve Gollan has investigated around 100 fatal and serious injury crashes and knocked on many doors to break the news a loved one has been killed.

"The importance of a death message and how you deliver it can't be understated," he said.

"I rehearse it a couple of times. It's not something you can get wrong.

"Every little thing you say is important. And they know, when they come to the door and see you there, that it can only be for one of two reasons - either they're in trouble or someone they know is in trouble.

"Anyone who has kids who are of driving age - that's the first thing they think."

Police work at the scene of a fatal car crash in Townsville in June. Picture: AAP
Police work at the scene of a fatal car crash in Townsville in June. Picture: AAP

Sgt Gollan said his first priority is always to manoeuvre the person to somewhere comfortable before breaking the news in a very "direct" way.

"You have to give it to them straight. You can't teeter around the edges. You don't want them to misunderstand what you are saying.

"I will always say `and as a result of the accident, they've died'. You don't say gone, or passed away. You have to be clear. I always use the word `died'.

"And that's when you offer the support.

"What you say will be in their memories for the rest of their lives. They always remember the person who told them their son, daughter, husband has died."

Queensland's road toll is currently at 127, compared to 113 at the same time last year. Police have pleaded with motorists to take more care on the roads, believing the coronavirus pandemic is giving people the false impression that there are less patrols on the roads.

"When you go to these crashes, the human brain can handle seeing it, but you need time to recover from it. Your brain needs time to heal," Sgt Gollan said.

"I can still picture every person from every fatal crash I've been to."

Originally published as Death messenger: Police's most heartbreaking job


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