West End Lane crash: Can we help?

Since Tuesday, I’ve spoken to Ben Dutton and twice to Rich Werner. Ben is the husband of Desreen Brooks who died in Saturday’s accident on West End Lane in West Hampstead. Rich is the father of Amy who was badly injured in the same crash and remains in hospital. Rich and his wife Gina flew over immediately from their home in Dover, Vermont together with Amy’s grandmother.

It would be an understatement to say that both were gracious under incredibly difficult circumstances. I think – I hope – it helped that these weren’t interviews for an article; they’d already been through that a few times on Tuesday. They were calling because they had heard, via the police’s family liaison officer, of the strength of feeling expressed in the comments left on this website, and of local people’s desire to help in any way they could.

Terrible incidents like this generally bring out the best in people – a desire to do something, anything, to show they care; to show to those affected that this isn’t just another statistic. How that goodwill manifests itself almost becomes irrelevant, people just want to show support. For the families going through the hell that is a sudden bereavement or horrendous injuries to a loved one, their focus can be only on coping with what is happening at the time.

How incredible then, for both Ben and Rich to want to take the time to express their thanks to the locals who have shown them such kindness. Ben was very clear that any help people could give should go towards supporting Amy’s family, who are a long way from home. He and his son have a lot of family and friends close by – he was just realising how many – and are being well looked after, he said. He told me that he and Desreen had planned a day out on Saturday, and he fully intended to go ahead with that because he wanted to keep a sense of normality for their son.

Ben was also very clear that they would still be frequent visitors to West Hampstead – their best friends live here, indeed that’s who they were visiting last Saturday night. His positive attitude, and determination that their son would know what an amazing woman his mother was, was extremely moving.

When I spoke to Rich on Tuesday, Amy was in theatre. We talked briefly about where they were staying and whether there was anything we could do to make that more comfortable for them, but he said they were in good shape for now. However, they recognise that they could well be here for a while and that a longer-term option might be necessary. We spoke again yesterday. On Tuesday it sounded like he was making an effort to be calm; yesterday there was a genuinely more positive tone. Tuesday’s operation had gone well, and the surgeon had been positive about Amy’s progess. She is still in a serious condition but the medical staff are keeping her stable before the next operation, which has been pushed back a couple of days. Amy’s grandmother will fly back to the US today.

Amy and her mother in May 2011

“I can’t express enough how great everyone has been,” said Rich. “It’s been overwhelming. If we close our eyes for a few minutes, it’s like we’re back in Dover.” To feel so cared for that you could be at home, when you are in fact 3,500 miles away is testament to the quality of care they are receiving at St Mary’s. They’ve been to the site of the crash and seen the cards and flowers people have left for both Amy and Desreen.

He specifically asked me to thank two people who’d left comments on the blog. First, one of the doctors who’d been passing and stopped to help. In the chaos that followed the collision, a plastic bag containing a vintage ukulele that belonged to his grandfather and was being taken to be restored went missing. The doctor has posted about this, understandably nervous that it would seem self-serving in the wake of such a tragedy but explaining that it had huge sentimental value. I didn’t think it was self-serving – here was a guy who’d stopped to help victims of a road accicent, bit harsh to think anything other than good of him. Rich saw it the same way and told me to say that he was sorry that this good samaritan had lost the instrument and to thank him for all he’d done for both victims.

He also asked me to thank someone who simply signed off as “J”, with no other way of contacting them. J had sat with Amy and put a blanket over her while they waited for the ambulance. I don’t have kids, but I can still just about imagine that thought that your child is lying in the road and you are an ocean away but someone, some kind person, is holding their hand and keeping them warm. If you read this J, then know that Rich and Gina are immensely grateful.

As for what we can do to help, well, right now, very little. It’s not the answer lots of you are looking for I know. Feeling impotent at a time like this is frustrating, but it’s nothing to what the people immediately affected are going through. Rich and I agreed to speak again in a few days’ time when they have a clearer idea of what their needs might be. Then I’ll be badgering you all for contacts in the property business, or whatever it is we need. Until then, let’s let them focus on being there for Amy.

  • Anonymous

    A wonderfully written piece, making huge sense of a difficult situation. The families know that the local community is on stand-by to help in any way in the future.

  • Jonathan, we are really very lucky to have someone like you running this “community service” (I am not talking specifically in relation to the above tragedy, but this does highlight the value of it in many ways) – It is something Camden can only dream of providing. Your skill, tact and way of delivering clear information in an impartial way is best described as “legendary” (or will be some time very soon).

    This is a very difficult situation that I am sure many of us would rather run from than face head on as you are.

    I hope you are treated accordingly at the event tonight.

    I also hope there are a few estate agents (or local hotelliers) reading this who are willing to step in and perhaps help with some accomodation support for Amy’s family.

  • Jason Staloff

    I’m from the Werners’ home town, and like everyone over here we’re saddened by the accident. Rich has helped my own family in a time of need, and my best wishes go out to the Werners to see their daughter through to a full recovery.

    I want to express my deepest sympathy to Mr. Dutton and his son, and thanks for his kindness to Rich and Gina.

    As an emergency responder in our town, I have seen at close quarters the devastation that can happen in an automobile accident. Modern cars are so comfortable, and we drive so frequently, that it’s easy to forget we’re in command of a multi-ton projectile instead of sitting in the living room. One thing we can all do to help is to minimize our driving and devote ourselves 100% to safety while we’re behind the wheel.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks Jonathan for keeping the community informed in a way a normal newspaper couldn't. Thanks for all your efforts. We need a place like this to be kept informed and it shows we all care.

  • SB

    My husband and I are Americans living in West Hampstead and would be more than happy to Amy’s parent’s stay in our spare bedroom should they need it. Or anything else — a homecooked meal? A cup of coffee? We’ll take care of it.

    I am so overwhelmed by how generous and amazing everyone in this community is — what a privilege to live here. Thank you Jonathan, for keeping the community connected,what you do is really wonderful.

    • Hi SB, thanks for letting me know. A few people have contacted me with similar offers, so once I'm back in touch with Amy's parents I'll pass all these on.

  • Anonymous

    are there any updates on amy?