The heartbroken sister of a Wearside schoolboy who died after being hit by a bus today pleaded with drivers and pedestrians alike to be extra vigilant on the roads this winter.
Matthew Hayes, 12, was killed after being struck by a bus on Ryhope Street as he made his way home from Venerable Bede Secondary School on November 22, 2013.
Now, on the second anniversary of his death, his sister Rehanna is backing a campaign that it is hoped will prevent other families from suffering such a tragic loss.
Rehanna, 18, made her heartfelt appeal today at the start of national charity Brake’s Road Safety Week, to try to keep drivers and pedestrians safe, as the darker nights take hold.
Her call comes after road user casualties across the Northumbria Police force area increased by 7% last year compared to 2013.
Rehanna, of Ryhope, said her family, including mum Nicola and dad Neil, has been shattered by the loss of Matthew, and urged the Wearside public to avoid taking the same risks that cost her brother his life.
She said: “We were all heartbroken to lose Matthew.
“The house is just not the same without him here. I don’t think any of us will ever get over his death.
“Matthew was really brainy. He was a really sensible boy, but people take risks everyday without even realising they’re doing it.
“I definitely behave differently around roads now. I take my time. I look for crossings. I never take chances.
“It sounds simple, but it can be the difference between life and death. Matthew’s death made me realise that you can make one mistake and lose everything. It’s that easy.”
Matthew had been just three months into his studies at Venerable Bede Secondary School when he was killed, leaving staff and pupils ‘devastated’ by his death, according to headteacher Gill Booth.
The pupil, who had dreamed of becoming a scientist, was killed instantly after running out in front of a single decker bus.
The youngster was a huge Doctor Who fan and had been excited about watching the latest episode of the sci-fi drama, which was broadcast the day after his death.
“Matthew loved Doctor Who,” said Rehann. “He was mad about it. He was so excited to see the special that was on, on the Saturday.
“It was all he had talked about for weeks. He wouldn’t let us forget the date of it – he reminded us about it from the second it was announced.
“But he never got to watch it.”
In the immediate aftermath of the accident, the police and ambulance had cordoned off the area surrounding the scene of the crash.
When Rehanna - who had been told her brother had been involved in an accident in a Facebook message - and her mother arrived at the scene, they were told by a policeman that Matthew, who would have celebrated his thirteenth birthday on Christmas Eve, was dead.
“I was upstairs getting ready to go to a house party, when I got a message on Facebook,” she recalled. “It said that Matthew had been in an accident and I should quickly get round to the bottom of Ryhope Street,” said Rehanna.
“I remember telling my mam. My dad was at work, so we drove round. We never imagined it was as serious as it turned out to be. We just didn’t think.”
In the immediate aftermath of the accident, the police and ambulance had cordoned off the area surrounding the scene of the crash. When Rehanna and her mother arrived at the scene, they were told by a policeman that Matthew, who would have celebrated his thirteenth birthday on Christmas Eve, was dead.
“I remember sitting in the police car and them telling us. We couldn’t get anywhere near the place the accident happened, so we didn’t see him. I just couldn’t believe it. It didn’t really seem real, and I can’t really remember all of the details of the day – I remember the road being completely blocked off, but I don’t recall much about who was there and things. It was all a bit blurred.
“I went to see him after he died to say goodbye. I still couldn’t believe it was happening; that it was Matthew who had died. We took along Bonzo, Matthew’s favourite cuddly toy and put it in his arms. He was a little dog and Matthew used to take him everywhere with him. I remember him making my mam take Bonzo to Morrisons in her bag once, so we wanted him to have Bonzo with him,” says Rehanna.
“We were all heartbroken. I was in the final year of school when it happened – I just couldn’t study.
“It was hard to do anything for a while, after Matthew died. The house is just not the same without him here. He had funny little sayings – when we used to go to my nana’s, he would only sit in this one chair – a red one that he said was his. He went mad if anyone else sat in it. And he had his own fork. He called it the fork of epicosity. Nobody really knew what it meant.”
What made Matthew run out in front of the bus is still unclear, but assistant coroner for Sunderland, Karin Welsh, recorded a verdict of accidental death, pointing out that the bus driver could take no responsibility for the accident, having driven in an exemplary manner.
“Nobody really knows why Matthew did it,” said Rehanna. It was just an accident. He mustn’t have seen the bus.
“They said in the coroner’s report that his Asperger’s had played a part, but we didn’t really think that was true.
“He was really clever and his Asperger’s didn’t really affect him day-to-day. He was just a normal boy. Quite quiet, I suppose.
“He liked to be in his room with his best friend, playing on YouTube together. He used to watch videos all the time.”
“The woman who knocked Matthew down was not to blame,” added Rehanna, who works for Greggs. “But what happened will probably haunt her for the rest of her life.
“It must be horrendous to live with the fact that the bus she was driving killed my brother and my mam and dad’s son.
“But we don’t blame her. It was an accident. An awful accident.
“It would be nice to think that something positive could come from it, if Matthew’s death means that one fewer person takes a risk on the road – as a driver or just someone walking somewhere.”
What is clear is that Rehanna’s days with her beloved little brother live long in her memory.
“We were really close, but he used to get on my nerves like all little brothers,” she said.
“He used to sing while I was eating my tea and it drove me mad so I would tell him to shut up and end up chasing him around the house telling him to stop.
“But I think about Matthew everyday. I still talk to him. We have his ashes in a Doctor Who box in the living room, and I tell him I miss him.
“Special occasions like Christmas can be hard, especially because Matthew’s birthday was on December 24.
“I used to get so jealous of him, having his birthday so close to Christmas, because he would get so many more presents than me. His presents for the Christmas he missed were already bought and in the cupboard. He had wanted a Playstation, and it was in the cupboard under the stairs.
“It’s still there, in the box. In the same place, still unopened.
“We celebrate his birthday, and the year he died, when he would have been 13, we all got together as a family and let go of 13 tardis balloons for him.
“I don’t think I will ever come to terms with losing Matthew. I still remember the last time I saw him.
“He was running out to school and I shouted for him to come back and said ‘erm, are you not going to give us a hug?’.
“He came back, we hugged and he left for school, just like any other normal day. But by tea time, he was gone.
“The day after he died, we sat down as a family and watched Doctor Who. We watched it for him. Without Matthew, but with memories that we’ll keep forever.”
Most child pedestrian casualties occurred on the journey home from school, and with dark mornings and nights, the risk of collisions can be increased with October and November peak months.
Last year, there were 573 road traffic accidents involving casualties in Sunderland.
To find out more about how to stay road safe go to www.sunderland.gov.uk/road-safety or to spread the word about Road Safety Week use the hastag #RoadSafeSund on social media.
Praise for brave Rehanna
This year’s national road safety week begins the day after the second anniversary of Matthew’s death and is designed to raise awareness of ways pedestrians and drivers can stay safe on UK roads.
Councillor Michael Mordey, cabinet member for city services at Sunderland City Council, said the authority is throwing its weight behind Rehanna’s bid to promote road safety in the hope that people in the city will realise the tragic consequences road traffic accidents can have.
Coun Mordey said: “Rehanna is an incredibly brave young lady, for lending her voice to a campaign that really strikes close to her heart. The loss of someone so young is an absolute tragedy, and with Rehanna – at just 18 years of age – sharing such a heartbreaking story, I am sure people in the city and wider region will begin to appreciate just how painful losing a loved one in these circumstances can be, but – perhaps more importantly – I am sure Rehanna’s story will influence people’s behaviour, and will play a part in ensuring that Sunderland continues to see the number of road traffic injuries sustained each year reduce. The more that we share messages about how to stay safe on the road, whether you are crossing as a pedestrian or behind the wheel, the better chance we have of preventing another tragic death, like young Matthew’s. If Rehanna’s story makes people do nothing else, I hope at the very least it will encourage people to log online and just take a second to read how they can stay safe on the road.” As part of the campaign, Sunderland City Council will be posting advice online and through its social media account - @SunderlandUK on Twitter - to help people walking and drivers who are making their way through busy streets in the area, to stay safe.