“Penny, I’m so so sorry we’ve had an accident.”
It’s the call no mother wants to receive. But on Friday night, after returning home from the supermarket, Penny Keegan did.
Her 15-year-old son, John, was a passenger in his friend’s Toyota ute that rear-ended a BMW waiting to turn right off the Mitchell Highway near Orange in central-western NSW – in what has been described as a “very minor” collision.
When John got out of the car to check on the occupants of the BMW, a couple aged in their 70s, both cars were struck by a prime mover coming in the other direction.
He died at the scene.
That same night, his grandmother also died after a battle with dementia.
Penny told 7NEWS.com.au that reports her eldest son had exited the car to check the welfare of the couple in the other vehicle didn’t surprise her.
“I just think he was so amazing, but I know I’m biased,” the mother-of-six said.
“John was cheeky, he was naughty – not bad, never bad naughty – he would get in trouble at school for pranks and silly things.
“He was loved by everyone, even the teachers.”
She recalled a time her youngest son had been teasing her daughter and calling her names.
“John went outside and said, ‘listen here mate, I don’t want to hear you ever speak to your sister like that ever again. Never speak to girls like that’. It was just gorgeous,” she said.
“He’s dead set the coolest kid.”
Penny said John would play video games with his friends every night, adding “it was like they were all here”.
“That was his life – his footy, his mates, he always wanted to do something, go somewhere.”
‘A horrible nightmare’
Penny had spent the last week caring for her own mother, and after leaving her bedside on Friday, she received a call from John asking whether it would be OK for his friend to pick him up, and go to his house and stay. She agreed.
She went to the supermarket and had returned home when she received a second call from John’s friend.
‘Penny, I’m so so sorry we’ve had an accident.’
“Penny, I’m so so sorry we’ve had an accident,” he said.
‘I said, ‘where are you darling? We’ll come and get you’, just thinking they were bogged or something I don’t know,” Penny explained.
“He said there was a lot of people there … it’s really bad’. It was just a horrible nightmare.”
Penny, and her husband Jason, rushed down to the crash site but police wouldn’t let her through.
“We went out to the hospital and we waited almost an hour before they actually came and told us,” she said.
The couple then had to work out how to tell their children.
“I think the most important thing is we stick together and stay strong,” she said.
Just 20 minutes later, she received a call from her dad.
“He said, ‘hey love, look I just wanted you to know your mother’s just passed’ and I had to tell him his grandson had as well and he was distraught,” she said.
“We’re all distraught. I can’t make rhyme or reason of this.”
A fundraising campaign has since been created to ease the financial burden of two funerals. To donate, visit the GoFundMe page.
The organiser remembered John as a “respected young man with an infectious personality and love for family, friends and life”.
John’s junior rugby league team also paid their respects to the teen with a “cheeky smile”.
“His hard working attitude, his toughness on the footy field, his willingness to help around the club, and his genuine friendly nature, will always be remembered by all of us as “Our John”,” the club wrote online.
“How blessed our club has been to have witnessed John grow and develop through the years, not just as a player but also as a champion young man.”
Acting Inspector Josh Dixon told reporters on Saturday that the initial collision was “very minor”.
“The (boy) was trying to do the right thing, absolutely,” he said. “It’s absolutely tragic that this is the result.”
The 17-year-old Toyota driver and the man and woman in the BMW, aged 72 and 71, were taken to Orange Hospital in a serious but stable condition.
The 48-year-old truck driver was also taken for mandatory testing but released pending further inquiries.
The truck driver’s boss told 7NEWS that the incident was “an absolute tragedy, we’re in shock and the family have our full support … we’re feeling their pain.”
Police are investigating the incident. A report will be prepared for the coroner.