The tragic story of Ethan Houghton, Tracy Houghton, Josh Houghton and Aimee Goldsmith.
Just a few seconds of distracted driving can take lives as well as ruining the lives of those who knew the victims, and nobody is more aware of that than the families of Tracy Houghton, Ethan Houghton, Josh Houghton and Aimee Goldsmith whose lives were ripped apart and changed forever after the tragic events of 10th August 2016, which killed four members of their families – three of them Children. The photo on the left was taken just a few days before the crash that would kill them.
First of all, I don’t know the Houghton or Goldsmith Families and I had never met the victims of the tragic crash which occurred on the A34 near Newbury on 10th August 2016, however the story of the crash really moved me at the time it was first reported by the national press, and their tragic and emotive story still both moves and angers me today, enough to write this blog in their memory, whilst respectfully using their story to highlight the very real dangers and risks of using a mobile phone whilst driving and to warn against this and similar distractions. If reading their story makes just one person stop and think twice about using a mobile phone or becoming distracted whilst behind the wheel, then that is also one potential tragedy averted and writing this blog will have been worthwhile, because situations like this are entirely preventable, and should never happen.
On 10th August 2016, Tracy Houghton and her partner Mark Goldsmith packed their extended family into their cars, in order to return to their home in Dunstable, Bedfordshire after a family camping holiday in Devon. Being a six member family with two dogs, they had to travel in two cars. Tracy’s children Ethan Houghton aged 13, Joshua Houghton aged 11 and Mark’s daughter Aimee Goldsmith also aged 11, traveled with Tracy in her Vauxhall Corsa whilst Mark and his 13 year old son, Jake followed in convoy in his Vauxhall Zafira. After exchanging hugs and kisses, this close & loving family set off for the long return journey home, little realising that by the Evening four members of their family would be dead, wiped out by the selfish and negligent actions of another driver, a professional driver who should have known better than to voluntarily engage in any kind of distraction whilst behind the wheel. The following events, chronicle the devastating effects of his decision to break the law and put the lives of other road users at risk by picking up a mobile phone that day – the lives of Tracy, Ethan, Josh and Aimee.
At approximately 4.00 pm, Tomasz Kroker arrived for work in Andover as a lorry driver, where his employer handed him the keys to a 40-tonne Mercedes HGV Truck. As part of his job driving the truck that day, Tomasz Kroker had to sign a contract with his employer before leaving the depot, a contract which stated that he would not use a mobile phone whilst in control of the vehicle. Tomasz, duly signed the contract, and drove the truck away, the start of his journey would take him up the A34 towards Oxford, a section of road where his own reckless actions would shortly lead him to be the cause of a catastrophic crash which would leave four people dead, and countless others mourning their passing.
At 5.10 pm, the Houghton’s and Goldsmith’s were also driving up the A34, with Tracy’s car at the front and Mark directly behind, in front of Tracy was another large truck. Behind Mark were two other vehicles, a small Citroen panel van and a Mazda car, some distance behind the Mazda was Tomasz Kroker at the wheel of his Truck. But what was not known to the other drivers, was that Tomasz Kroker’s attention was focused away from the road ahead and onto his mobile phone, which he was using to play music through the in cab audio system. In fact despite signing a contract to the contrary just over an hour earlier Tomasz Kroker was already spending more time looking at his phone than at the road ahead, so much so that the judge sentencing him in Court three months later described the actions of Kroker in the final moments leading up to the accident as “may as well have been driving with your eyes shut”.
Just ahead of Tracy the traffic on the Northbound A34 slowed to a stop, eventually bringing her car, and the cars behind her to a halt, however the highly visible queue of stationary traffic on his lane some distance ahead was not evident to Tomasz Kroker, whose eyes were still affixed down at his mobile phone where they remained for more than several seconds, as he browsed through his phone playlist of music tracks. Clearly alarmed by the rapidly approaching HGV in his rear view mirror, which was showing no signs of slowing, the Mazda driver at the back of the queue frantically switched on his hazard warning lights to warn the truck driver of the stationary traffic and the queue of cars ahead, but it was to no avail, as just seconds later, Tomasz Kroker drove his 40-tonne truck into the stationary cars at 50 mph, without even braking.
First to be hit in the concertina crash was the Mazda, which was tossed sideways by the impact landing on its roof in the grass verge, leaving the driver alive but with life threatening back, neck and internal injuries, next the truck hit the Citroen van, the impact forcing it around sideways and effectively using it as a battering ram, which then ploughed into the Vauxhall Zafira which was carrying Mark and Jake Goldsmith. Horrified, but unable to do anything to protect his family in the car in front, Mark’s car was forced into the back of Tracy’s car, pushing it so hard into the Truck in front that it forced the smaller car under the trucks’ trailer lifting the rear wheels of the trailer off the ground. Tracy’s Corsa was crushed to a third of its normal length, with the weight of the trailer also crushing down its roof. Tracy and the Children never stood a chance – they were all killed instantly.
The actual crash was captured by two cameras fitted to the truck that Tomasz Kroker was driving, one camera was facing forward, and the other – a driver facing camera caught the shocking amount of time that Tomasz was distracted by his mobile phone. The video footage (which the Houghton & Goldsmith families have bravely agreed to release publicly), was used to convict Tomasz Kroker and is available to watch below. (Some viewers may find the accident captured in this video distressing).
One of the most emotive reports that I have ever read in any newspaper, was an interview with Mark Goldsmith recalling how, despite his own injuries, he raced to Tracy’s crushed car, in an attempt to help his family, to be at their side, something that any Father would frantically do. Hearing his own account of the horror which he saw happen in front of him and the immediate aftermath, his children and partner lying dead and beyond all help in the crushed carnage and all of the emotions and helplessness that he still feels today, is truly heartrending.
I can’t imagine any greater pain for any Parent than the death of a child but to lose three in such horrific circumstances, and witness it all happening just feet away from you is unfathomable, the lives of Mark and his young Son were changed forever that day, mental scars left inside that will never heal, the grief and pain of losing your family and the images of the aftermath which re-appear in countless nightmares. No parent should be burying their Children, certainly not because of the illegal distraction caused by a mobile phone. Jake Goldsmith, aged just 13 at the time, was left heavily traumatised and is still struggling to come to terms with what he saw alongside his Father that day. Barely able to sleep and attend school since the fatal accident, his parents report that he is not the happy boy he once was, but has become quiet and withdrawn, and that his whole personality has changed, yet another innocent victim of what Tomasz Kroker did that day.
Other members of the Family are just as deeply affected too. Doug Houghton, the Father of Ethan and Joshua Houghton, describes how Christmas for him is cancelled this year, not only because of the tragedy which happened just a few months earlier, but because Ethan, his eldest Son, has a Birthday which fell on 23rd December. Each Christmas and passing Birthday will no doubt bring memories of the accident, a painful and cruel reminder of the two young sons that he will now never see grow up. Whilst Tomasz Kroker will serve just five years out of the ten year sentence in prison, his actions that day have left the bereaved families of his victims facing a life sentence of a different kind.
The following video was recorded and released by Thames Valley Police and features interviews with Doug Houghton the Father of Josh and Ethan Houghton, and Kate Goldsmith, who was the Mother of Aimee Goldsmith, it also contains the emotional interview with Mark Goldsmith, who recalls the day, where he, along with his teenage son witnessed the accident which took the lives of his Partner, Daughter and two Step Sons. Please take the time to watch the video, as they each recall how the accident has affected them, and how they have been trying to cope in the months following 10th August 2016.
Seven seconds was all it took, seven seconds of distraction whilst driving to kill three innocent Children and their Mother, violently wipe them from existence, robbing them of their lives, whilst in turn also ruining the lives of the many people who knew and loved them, the effects of an accident like this are devastating, far reaching and never ending. Tomasz Kroker’s choices that day can never be undone, and the hurt it caused will continue and never heal and it was all so avoidable, simply by avoiding the temptation to pick up or look at a mobile phone whilst driving.
On 31st October 2016, Tomasz Kroker was sentenced in Court to ten years in prison but will likely only actually serve five years (Kroker is eligible for Parole on 30/10/2021). This sentence was branded as being too lenient by many members of the public (myself included), however it is still a period which will take Tomasz Kroker away from his Family, many years which will leave them without a Husband, Father and breadwinner, and his own wife and young baby are just as much the victims of his choices on that day too. There are no winners in this equation, and no Hollywood style happy ending, just the bereaved left grieving and missing the Children and Family who will never return home. For others, its the feeling anger and frustration for the entirely preventable series of events which really should never have happened.
In putting the facts of this story together I have read many comments in the press and social media not only expressing a sense of loss and grief, but a heartwarming show of support and solidarity to the surviving members of the victims families too, and it is obvious that Tracy, Ethan, Josh and Aimee were much loved and respected by their peers and are now also desperately missed in their local community of Dunstable, and I hope that their families can gain some comfort from this.
You would think that, after so much media coverage and public outrage which followed this accident that using a mobile phone whilst driving would be a thing of the past just months after this accident occurred, but it isn’t, in fact I still see many drivers each day, driving along an using their mobile phones in some way, and even in the days following Tomasz Krokers prison sentence the media photographed many more drivers still on their phones whilst driving – fully grown adults clutching their phones like some kind of adult comfort blankets, often with their own children in the car with them, engaging in a distraction which increases the chances of causing a serious accident ten fold. Is this some kind of crazy addiction?, perhaps these drivers need to turn their phones off and leave them out of reach if they cannot put common sense first, and avoid the temptation to look at, or use their phones whilst driving.
Are you still using a mobile phone whilst driving? – Perhaps you drive along looking at, or using your phone thinking that something like this will never happen to you, and that you are perfectly able to multitask?. Tomasz Kroker was probably thinking exactly the same thing in the seconds leading up to him taking four lives. Its not an assumption or scare tactic, and its not what “could” happen, its what does happen and has happened. Go back and read the article again, watch the videos and look into the eyes of the parents whose Children were killed, then tell me how there is any instance where the risk of using a mobile phone whilst driving can ever be justified or excused.
There are calls for technology to be developed and play a part in preventing mobile phone use whilst driving in the future, but why do we need technology to step in?. We already have access to one of the most powerful pieces of equipment ever created, its called a brain and all that needs to change, is that a number of drivers need to start using theirs more.
We all make mistakes and accidents can happen, but there is nothing accidental about picking up and looking at a mobile phone, you would never accidentally or mistakenly find yourself in that situation, because picking up a phone is a decision – a choice, and not a mistake, accident or oversight!. For that reason I’d like to see using a mobile phone whilst driving become as socially unacceptable as drink driving, because it is just as abhorrent, and can kill. Both the acts of drink driving and driving whilst using / looking at a mobile phone are choices made after a thought process which resulted in a decision being made by the driver, often to just go ahead and do it anyway despite it being a criminal offence and with the knowledge of the risks which can happen as a result. Just because there may be more daily instances of mobile phone use on the roads everyday compared to drink driving doesn’t make it ‘OK’ nor will it lessen the grief of the family you kill when your luck eventually runs out and you cause an accident, nor the guilt that you have to live with as a result of killing somebody, or an entire family.
The media interest and coverage of this accident will, no doubt, eventually fade as time passes, so please share this blog page on social media, in order to keep the dangers of using a mobile phone whilst driving present in peoples’ minds and the tragic events that can occur as a result. If you know somebody who still habitually uses a mobile phone whilst driving, then please share this on their social networking pages, and let them know as their friend that doing this is no longer acceptable.
Please also sign the petition to increase the sentences of drivers who kill or maim innocent people. Ten years is simply not enough!.
I have also attached some free to use clip art images below, which if clicked will open full size and allow you to print them off in order to stick in the back windows of cars etc, to warn others that driving whilst using a mobile phone is not acceptable.
Please remember that no call is a matter of life or death whilst driving, but choosing whether or not to use a mobile phone whilst driving can mean the difference between Life or Death for other people around you.