United by grief - Sisters' tearful hospital reunion

The Sunday Telegraph

Sunday 25 January 2004
CRASH survivor Ruth Allen has met her teenage sister, Leah, for the first time since the car accident that killed the rest of their immediate family.

The two girls spoke and comforted each other after learning their mother, father and sisters, Hannah, 14, and Phoebe, nine, had died when the family's four-wheel drive overturned on the Hume Highway on Tuesday.

The accident has re-ignited debate about the safety of large four-wheel drives and prompted calls for additional training and tougher licence requirements for their owners.

Monash University's Accident Research Centre says four-wheel drives are twice as likely as ordinary cars to roll in an accident.

Leah, the more seriously injured of the sisters, left intensive care yesterday afternoon.

Ruth was back at the family home in Canberra on crutches and being cared for by members of her extended family.

She was looking forward to Leah's return because “she is having trouble sleeping because it's noisy in the hospital”.

Family members and friends are surprised at how the sisters have coped with the loss of their mother, Elizabeth, 40, father, Bill, 41, and two sisters in the accident near Tarcutta, south-east of Wagga Wagga.

“The kids are incredible. They cope with life,” their uncle, Michael Allen, told The Sunday Telegraph yesterday.

“Leah's marvellous, but they've still got a long way to go.”

Ruth was released from Wagga Base Hospital on Wednesday. Relatives drove her to Canberra Hospital to visit Leah, who is in a stable condition after waking from a coma on Thursday.

Family members said Leah's recovery was an enormous relief.

The Allens were driving back from a wedding in Melbourne when their Toyota LandCruiser spun out of control and rolled.

Police are still investigating the cause of the accident, which has re-ignited debate over the safety of large off-road vehicles.

Pedestrian Council of Australia chairman Harold Scruby yesterday called for drivers of four-wheel drives above two tonnes to be required to hold a light-truck licence.

“These are trucks, they're not motor vehicles, and they're much more likely to roll,” he said.

NRMA policy adviser Jack Haley urged owners of four-wheel drives to take driving courses.
Research by Monash University shows four-wheel-drive vehicles are twice as likely to roll.

“It can happen with just a general loss of control by hitting an unsealed shoulder,” researcher Stuart Newstead said.

“People need to be aware of the compromise they're making with that sort of vehicle.”

Mr Newstead said four-wheel drives were also 50 per cent more likely to kill or injure occupants of cars they collided with.

Michael Allen yesterday expressed his family's gratitude for the community's support. “We are confronted by positives all the time,” he said.

“Out of all of this there are inspirational acts; the ambulance, the truck driver, the hospital staff and the overwhelming response from the community.”

The loss has been keenly felt in Canberra, where Bill and Liz Allen were prominent lawyers.

Bradley Allen Lawyers has set up a trust fund for the girls' future and has already collected several thousand dollars.

A special meeting was held on Thursday for grief-stricken students of Radford College, where Hannah went to school and Leah is due to begin Year 8.

Donations to the fund for Leah and Ruth can be made at any Westpac branch. Cheques should be made payable to the Allen Children Appeal -- Bradley Allen Lawyers Trust Account.