Horror stalks region

September 11, 2017

Three killed in just four hours.

Car tragedies haunt local sporting stars. 

TRAGEDY stalked our region at the weekend with two people killed in a Tongala car crash and an 87-year-old Moama woman dying in Melbourne after being struck by a van driven by a 90-year-old man, also of Moama.

Tongala was devastated on Saturday after a couple in their 60s died in a two-car collision just outside the town.

And the town’s netball teams, playing their second semi-finals only hours after the crash, were torn apart by the tragedy.

Team members Sarah and Abby Pettifer play in the A and B grades for the Blues and it was their aunt and uncle, Joe and Jeanette Baggow, 69 and 61 respectively, who had died.

Both girls withdrew from the finals to be with their family.

Tongala A grade coach Alicia White broke down in tears as she tried to describe the raw emotion of her players and the club’s supporters.

She had bravely held it together to lead the teams – even though they both lost – and did not give in to her emotions until after the game when she had a chance to reflect on the full horror of the day.

As a playing coach she had a duty to the rest of the team to be composed and a leader both on and off the court, especially missing two of her most experienced players.

“It’s just really hard today,” she said.

“Those Pettifer girls have been through hell and back and to have this today just made it even harder.”

White said the news had rocked the entire club and it was a tribute to their absent teammates and their family that got the other 12 players on the court.

The crash also struck at the heart of Kyabram’s undefeated seniors in what will be remembered as one of the more courageous efforts in Goulburn Valley Football League history.

Kyabram superstar Kayne Pettifer chose to play his semi-final after learning of the death of his aunt and uncle.

Just two weeks ago Pettifer and his family had to come to grips with the loss of his mother Sally’s brother, Trevor Freer, in a car accident in Queensland.

Pettifer’s father, Mick, was tragically killed in a car accident near Wagga in 2009 when he and his wife Sally were visiting Saturday’s victims.

Family members were only being told about four hours before the start of the game, with Pettifer declaring to Newman he would be right to go after being convinced to play by his grandfather.

“I wasn’t going to play, I thought it’d be too much, but I spent an hour and a half with my pa and he told me to just go and play and do the family proud,” Pettifer said yesterday.

“I went to the game with Danny Kent, my brother-in-law and assistant coach, but he was great for me and really supported me well.

“It was very tough in the warm up, but once the boys got around me and kicked the first goal of the game, it was a bit of a dream start.

“But it was emotionally draining by the end and I’m just glad we got the win.

Pettifer said he was grateful to everyone who had supported his family in tough circumstances.

“We’re (his family) all going okay, it’s still just utter shock and disbelief,” Pettifer said.

“I lost my dad and my cousin in a car crash in 2009, so it’s just hard to comprehend what’s happened and that tragic accidents have affected both sides of my family.

“I had spent Friday with them (aunt and uncle) as they had come down for a 90th birthday and they were just going to head back home again on Saturday morning.

“Pete Croxford, the (Kyabram) president and the whole club at Kyabram have been great. We’ve had a lot of messages and people sending through their condolences to check up on the family.

“I also want to thank Seymour as well for the respect they showed and the support from the whole footy community is much appreciated by the whole family.”

Kyabram coach Paul Newman was gutted when told on his way to the Rochester Oval on Saturday morning of the fatal accident.

A teary Newman had already ruled Sam Sheldon out of the game with a slight hamstring strain and was even contemplating playing himself if Pettifer felt he could not do the team justice by taking his place in the line-up.

There were emotional scenes too at the end of the match when Pettifer’s family, including his mother Sally, sisters and brothers entered the ground to embrace him for his decision play under great pressure to honour his uncle and aunt and not let his teammates down — even though he had their full support if he had chosen not to play.

Newman said the club would give as much support to the former AFL player as possible.

‘‘It’s unbelievably courageous to turn up and play, he was obviously pretty distressed in the morning so it’s a very gutsy effort,” he said.

Rochester and Kyabram football clubs have played for the Mick Pettifer Memorial Shield since 2010, in honour of Kayne’s father.

‘‘He’s (Kayne) been super for us, but the family has been through so much and they just don’t deserve it and they somehow keep getting the tough breaks in life.

‘‘Everyone will keep supporting him and well get around him as much as we can in this next little period.’’

‘‘It was all pretty raw, but he was always confident to me that he’d play,’’ Newman said.

Pettifer’s resilience was on show early, as he kicked the first goal of the game for the Bombers in just the second minute.

All Kyabram players were wearing black armbands as a sign of respect.

An incredible moment came in the last quarter when Pettifer was tucked away in the pocket, but managed to put through a check side goal from the most difficult of angles.

The Pettifers’ aunt and uncle, described as a “big-hearted” couple, were on their way home to Mackay in Queensland after coming to Tongala for a family celebration.

They had left for home early when their SUV seemingly turned into the path of a 4WD towing a boat at the intersection of Murray Valley Hwy and Scobie Rd just after 8am.

Another of their nieces, Kate Cutts, said the couple had left early to beat the traffic

“We’re all a little bit lost and we don’t know what to do without them,” Ms Cutts said.

“It’s very out of character because Joe was just a careful driver.”

The much-loved couple had three children and six grandchildren – but they took in many others.

“They might have had three kids but they raised probably 33 more,” Ms Cutts said.

“They were big-hearted people who took everybody and anybody in.

“They lived their lives for everyone else around them and their family.”

Tributes flowed online.

“Such genuine people, you will be very missed by many,” a loved one wrote.

Five people in the eastbound 4WD — two men and a woman aged in their 40s and two teens — sustained minor injuries.

Safety features in the recently-purchased vehicle including multiple airbags were credited with protecting the occupants from serious harm.

The Moama woman who died had been hit in the Woolworths car park at Lakeview Shopping Centre in Patterson Lakes.

Paramedics were called to the corner of Thompson Rd and Gladesville Boulevard about 12.40pm on Saturday.

Police said emergency services attempted to revive the injured woman but she died at the scene.

A Victoria Police spokeswoman said the cause of the incident was still being investigated.

“The male driver of the vehicle is assisting police with their inquiries,” she said.

Police have not released the name of the woman.

Anyone with information or anyone who witnessed either accident is urged to call Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.

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