‘My son killed four people and himself - it still haunts me’
THE harsh memories are so fresh for Mel McGuinness she recalls them "like it was yesterday".
It's a December morning in 2012 and the Gold Coast mother-of-three is sitting on her couch beside her husband enjoying a cup of tea. They are watching the sunrise "like we do every single morning".
The night before, 18-year-old son and eldest child Jordan had been at a work Christmas party.
They exchanged texts. "He was saying he was having a lovely night."
Only later would she find out on top of drinking, he had smoked marijuana.
As the sun started rising, the doorbell at the Tugun home buzzed.
"I remember thinking, 'that's strange, Jordan's home early - why is he buzzing? He has got a key?'
"I remember like it was yesterday. The second I saw four officers through my glass door, I knew he was dead. We didn't know he was over the limit, that he had drugs in his system - I didn't find out for seven or eight weeks when we got his autopsy. We knew there were five fatalities and his car had hit theirs."
He died in one of the Gold Coast's most horrific crashes. He was speeding at 140km/h under the influence of booze and cannabis when colliding with a stationary vehicle broken down on the side of the M1.
It flung it up the guard rail and exploded, killing Natasha Maggs, 23, Tiana Williams, 17, Kody Holland-Williams, 18, and Allan Sullivan, 20.
Thomas Bayer, 16, escaped before the flames took hold. He was the sole survivor.
It's a story the founder of You Choose Youth Road Safety and Harvey Norman Gold Coast Women of the Year People's Choice winner in 2020 has told many times.
Ms McGuinness, 51, has made it her mission since to tell as many school kids as possible in the hope it averts anyone making a similar tragic mistake.
"I talk the kids through the last day I spent with Jordan and recall what it was like to see the police the next day to deliver that news.
"What it was like to close my eyes that night and know that as the sun was setting, the sun was setting on the last day that Jordan was alive and tomorrow I would wake up with the knowledge that yesterday Jordan was breathing and today he is not.
"All I could think about was Jordan in the morgue full of dead bodies and four other families going through what my family was going through. It still haunts me."
Jordan, who has two younger sisters, was "your quintessential, every day, knock-about kid, not too dissimilar to any kid I'd present to now," she said.
"He was a really good kid - far from a saint but the sort of kid who would always seek me out when he would leave the house to say goodbye and give me a kiss. As a mother of an 18-year-old boy, for me that was special, it's quite beautiful."
Since that fateful morning nine and a half years ago, Ms McGuinness has been trying to bring down the youth road toll by recounting her tragic tale in schools.
A year on from her People's Choice win, Ms McGuinness reflects on how proud she was.
"This award is for every student, teacher, community member who has watched a You Choose presentation and talked about our story, shared it and jumped on board."
After the win, she was runner up for Queensland Australian Of The Year 2021.
"It's been bitter-sweet because we don't do what we are doing for any sort of accolades what-so-ever."
It took three years after it to start to share her son's awful story as "an example of what
not to do and inspiring teens to think about their family before they get in that car and make dangerous and poor choices".
"In those first couple of years it was about getting through the day. (But) as I started to talk at schools it became very apparent how engaged the students were.
"I do ask the students to imagine it's not me standing before them - it's their mum."
So straight away I engage those students because I'm relatable as a mother, Jordan is relatable as a teen.
"The grief journey I take them on is very relatable. It's like holding up a mirror. Probably the most important part of the presentation is my 10-year-old daughter Montana talking at Jordan's memorial. If the students haven't already shed a tear - at this point a lot do because they are thinking 'That could be my mother, I could be Jordan and that could be my sibling'.
"We don't moralise safety, danger, right or wrong - or try to tell them what reckless behaviours are. They know.
"We want to show them what life is going to look like for their family if anything happens to them or what victims' families will look like if they do something like what Jordan did. It's not uncommon at the end of a presentation that many students will come up to hug me."
She has juggled the past few years of You Choose with work, running a development firm office but is now dedicated to it fulltime.
"You could not stop me. When I wake up it's the first thing I think about, knowing that I am able to engage with students. It's a profound blessing to have the opportunity to interact positively with so many young people."
She believes she has spoken collectively to more than 50,000 school students.
She is driven by the fact her story might change just one kid's decision: "Every day
might be the day when the You Choose messages influence that one teen to choose the
empowerment of accountability over the passivity of luck. Every day might be the day that one teen is prevented from doing what my son did to his poor victims and families. If it's just one family that's spared from the preventable misery, then there's vital purpose to the effort."
She made it clear "we definitely do not seek sympathy in any of this".
"Sympathy belongs with Jordan's victims and their families. What we seek is change. When it became clear that changing driving culture cannot be forced by the best efforts of governments, that it can only be youth-led peer advocacy, we had our mission."
HARVEY NORMAN GOLD COAST WOMEN OF THE YEAR AWARDS - ENTRIES CLOSE FRIDAY, MAY 7.
GO TO www.womenoftheyear.com.au
A GOLD Coast mum is giving students from struggling families the chance to attend their school formal thanks to her innovative charity.
Full Circle Formals founder Cindy Paterson, nominated for the 2021 Harvey Norman Gold Coast Women of the Year, said: "An average formal costs about $400 so for people who are on low income it is hard.
"A lot of students were out of jobs as well, so they weren't able to pay for themselves."
Students can borrow a dress, a suit, earrings and ties free of charge.
The owner of premium event and wedding style firm W Events Group also founded Eco Avengers to "nurture (children's) innate curiosity and passion for the environment".
"(It) is a non-for-profit organisation which goes into schools and educates children on sustainability and how they can make a change to look after the planet," she said.
Full Circle Formals gives school leavers from a low-income families the chance to attend their formal.
Students would be nominated by either a principle, councillor or year-level co-ordinator.
Ms Paterson said hearing stories about struggling families motivated her "to make a difference".
Her biggest inspiration is OzHarvest CEO Ronni Kahn whose group redistributes food that would otherwise have gone to waste.
"Ronni used to work in events and saw all the food going to waste and wanted to make a difference in peoples lives," she said. "I strive to give and have the results she has," she said.
The Harvey Norman Gold Coast Women of the Year is also brought to you by Star Gold Coast, Southern Cross University, St Hilda's School, Mx Skincare and Phoenix Management.
Nominate someone at www.womenoftheyear.com.au
Originally published as 'My son killed four people and himself - it still haunts me'