Elber Twomey considers her inability to remember the car crash that wiped out her family as a blessing.
She has also found the strength to forgive the suicidal Polish taxi driver who caused the fatal accident and regularly prays for him.
On July 6, 2012, the 38-year-old schoolteacher lost her husband Con 39, her son Oisín, 16 months, and her unborn baby daughter, Elber Marie, when Marek Wojciechowski drove into their car during a family holiday in Devon.
Her husband suffered catastrophic injuries and died in intensive care at Cork University Hospital almost 10 months later.
Instead of flying, she and Con had decided to take their own car on the ferry to England and drive to Torquay in Devon. Con had insisted that a UK holiday was safer and preferable to flying overseas, given that she was five months pregnant with their second child.
“As a child, my parents would have taken us to Torquay at different times, so I have fond memories of it. By taking the car, we could bring Oisín’s toys and make it like home away from home. We also thought it would be safer.”
Her memory of the hours before the crash remains clear. “I remember it was raining and we had been for a swim in the morning. We had lunch and then went to an indoor play centre. My next memory is of waking up at the end of July.”
Police in Devon had been searching for Marek after he left a four-page suicide note at home following a break-up with his wife. As the police approached with sirens blaring and lights flashing, he deliberately swerved across a busy dual-carriageway and crashed head-on into the Twomey family’s car.
“I have no memory of the crash so it didn’t put me off driving,” she told Sean O’Rourke on RTÉ Radio 1. “I’m blessed in the sense that I’ve no memory of the crash.”
Elber was unconscious for three weeks. To this day, she cannot recall being told her child was dead but became aware of it. “It was the end of July before I had a clue. I don’t remember ever being told that Oisín was gone. I just remember knowing. It was the same with Elber Marie. Maybe they had a conversation with me, but I’m not aware of it.”
Forgiving Marek did not come easy but has given her solace and has allowed her not to become embittered.
“Of course I blamed him; he crashed into us,” she said. “But a priest friend who visited Con the September after the crash asked would we pray for Marek. I said I couldn’t.
“He said he would pray for him on my behalf and my response to him was: ‘I hope you live to be very old’.”
But five months after the crash in November — the month of the Holy Souls — Elber found herself lighting a candle for him in the chapel at the CUH.
“I’m sure when he left, he was a dad and a husband too, I’m sure when he saw the outcome of the crash and he saw he had wiped out our family, I’m sure that was enough for him.
“I have forgiven him. If I hadn’t, I believe I would be very bitter and angry and no good for anybody. To forgive him has allowed me not to become bitter.”
Elber was also eager to let Marek’s wife know she didn’t blame her for the tragedy.
“I met Marek’s wife at Oisín’s inquest last November. It was very emotional for both of us but, personally, I was glad to meet her and let her know I didn’t blame her.
“From what I had read, she blamed herself, but it wasn’t her fault. People break up every day and that is not what they do as a result.”
Now Elber is devoting her time to a campaign to secure special training for gardaí here and police in the UK to deal with suicide.
Police in Devon have since changed their pursuit tactics and Elber said she is “deeply impressed” by a new regime at the Garda training college in Templemore that includes instruction in handling high-risk and suicidal motorists.
“You need to consider a suicidal soul is not a criminal. Police and guards should have basic suicide training that will help in dealing with a vulnerable person.”
More than two years after the tragedy, she dismisses her own injuries. “I had 19 operations, my jaw was rebuilt and I have a double pelvic place, but that’s all minor. I have a lot of metal in me, but that’s OK. I can walk, talk and drive.”
She finds not only solace but the strength to carry on in her deep, religious faith.
“I am blessed. I have a fairly strong faith and I have an army in Heaven to kick my ass out of bed in the morning.”
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