The long road to reconciliation
Peter Gruner talks to a man who has lived through the trauma and guilt of feeling responsible for a fatal accident that was not his fault
10 May, 2018 — By Peter Gruner
CAMDEN psychotherapist Jonathan Izard was driving in pitch black one night when he accidentally knocked down and injured a man who had suddenly stepped into the road. The man later died but a coroner ruled that the accident in 2015 was not Jonathan’s fault.
However, Jonathan, who used to love driving and had never been involved in an accident before, needed the kind of help that he himself offers to his clients when they have problems. He succumbed to deep feelings of grief, remorse and depression in the aftermath.
He runs a psychotherapy practice in Covent Garden, and spoke to Review after his story of terrible sadness featured in a BBC Radio 4 documentary, which resulted in an outpouring of public sympathy.
The victim, Michael Rawson, who was in his early 70s and was using crutches, was trying to reach his sheltered accommodation. But Jonathan didn’t see him until it was too late.
In an effort to come to terms with the traumatic events, Jonathan decided he should visit Michael’s close friends.
He expected to be received with anger and hostility. But instead Michael’s friends insisted it was an unfortunate accident and he was welcomed with kindness.
“Since the radio programme I’ve had people contact me to say it touched them in so many ways,” Jonathan said. “The programme seems to have allowed them to give themselves permission to talk about their own similar experiences.
“One woman contacted me and said her son was killed in an accident eight years ago and she would like to reach out to the driver and tell him she doesn’t blame him.”
For a period after the accident Jonathan retreated from the world, stopped shaving, and wore black. Overcome by grief, he couldn’t tell his friends what had happened.
A freelance BBC journalist, he has written his story for two national newspapers and is now working on a book.
A young Michael Rawson
He added: “I wanted to write about Michael so I could at least get to know him and he would be a real person rather than an accident statistic.
“And if after reading it someone is a little bit more careful before crossing the road or getting into their car then all the better.”
In one heart-breaking story, which he relates in the radio feature, a young woman reveals she decided she had no right to have children following a road accident that involved the death of an eight-year-old girl.
She says: “Terrible things happen to perfectly good people. The world can be so capricious, we know that.”
Jonathan discovered that, strangely, he and Michael had things in common. Michael studied at the same university, but 15 years earlier. His profession of linguistics took him around the world: he had lived in South Africa and Canada.
Jonathan began to build up a picture of a complex, highly intelligent scholar who had a passion for photography, travel and classical music.
“To be responsible for someone’s death is an unimaginable position,” Jonathan said. “There are so many questions. All the what-ifs, like had I been driving at a different time or I’d seen Michael sooner.
“After the accident I stopped shaving because it seemed an insensitive self-indulgence to pay attention to my appearance.
“I had therapy; a lot of therapy. In those sessions, I cried until I thought I’d never stop. I became terrified of crowds and loud noises, cowering and blocking my ears if I heard a police siren.”
There were 1,792 reported road deaths in 2016, a 4 per cent increase from 2015.
Samuel Nahk, senior public affairs officer with the road accident charity Brake, said: “Jonathan’s story is very thought-provoking and this tragic incident demonstrates clearly the devastating impact of road death.
“These terrible tragedies are preventable and Brake believes we should strive towards a vision of zero road deaths and serious injuries.”
• Brake’s helpline offers support to people bereaved or seriously injured by road crashes: call 0808 8000 401.
• Meeting The Man I Killed is available on the BBC Radio iPlayer.