Charity dance will go on: Dancer recalls roadside terror in Somerset
Ben Hammond was the talk of more than just one town as he danced from John o’Groats for charity. But after a drink driver hit him as he pirouetted through Somerset, he had to postpone his antics. Here, he pieces together the terror at the roadside...
It had been a long day of dancing, with a whole heap of hills between Bradford on Avon and Wells. Coupled with starting a day late and dancing over the Wiltshire town’s bridge with the Mayor and 50 or so fabulous dancing residents, this meant we’d only reached Wells by about 9pm. It was dark but thankfully no longer raining.
After the slightly surreal experience of having a wonderful Salsa dancer join us outside the magnificent cathedral, my cycling buddy for the day Sam swapped places with our intrepid film-maker Alice for the final three-mile stretch into Glastonbury. With it being fairly late and dark, we could’ve ended the day in Wells, but we knew the punishing final week’s schedule to get me to Land’s End on time depended on us keeping to plan – and dancing in the dark was nothing new; we’d finished as late as midnight before and this was just a further hour.
We’d be rewarded for a little discomfort now by a warm, cosy night’s sleep back in Bradford on Avon too. So Alice and I donned our highly attractive high-visibility jackets and set off. As Alice was by then an experienced tricylist, I felt reassured that she was there for this last bit. The big lights, flag and fluoro painting on the trike were also in full display for any passing motorists. All day they’d been tooting, waving, donating and generally being really supportive.
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We struck up our usual inane banter as I danced those final miles out of Wells. We’d been working together for seven weeks and by then our conversations were the sort only interpretable by ourselves. The A39 was quiet and flat; we couldn’t see it but in the daylight the Glastonbury Tor would’ve been visible dead ahead. I was taking it easy by this point – in a nice jiggy rhythm dancing to my own beat in my head. We’d taken out the stereo earlier in the day to save on weight.
With just ten further days to go until I reached Land’s End, my main priority was to stay well, keep my legs injury-free, stay on track and make it safely to the finish. I had only a couple of hundred miles to dance, was just nine miles shy of having danced a thousand miles, and didn’t want to jeopardise my chances of reaching the end. What started out as a challenge I felt I’d never be able to do – dance a marathon a day for day upon day upon day, for nigh-on two months – had, through a fair dollop of guts and the contributions of so many amazing supporters, turned into a distinct possibility.
I wanted to get to Land’s End on time. Nine friends and fundraisers were going to be joining me on that final day. Just like the days where fundraisers join me as I danced through Birmingham and Cardiff, I wanted to arrive on time and not let anyone down.
We followed the A39 past the outskirts of Polsham and out the other side, with just the final straight up to Glastonbury to come. That’s when I can remember no more. What follows I’ve pieced together from witness, volunteer, friend and family descriptions.
Just as we rounded a small right-hand bend opposite the Camelot Inn, a car overtook us. Inside that car someone in the front turned to the passengers to point me out. The passenger in the back seat turned round to look out of the back window – to see another car plough into me and Alice. They swung their car around, saw that people from the pub were running to our aid, and set off to follow the car who’d hit us. It hadn’t stopped.
What we’d been so conscious of but so careful to prevent and avoid throughout the thousand miles of the challenge, had happened.
Alice and I lay on the road 20ft from the point of impact. Our trike and its contents lay strewn across the road. People from the pub saw the whole thing and came rushing over. Ambulances arrived within minutes.
We were both conscious after the hit. The car had taken out the right wheel of the trike at speed. In attempting to overtake us the driver had misjudged it and careered into our big yellow flourescent flashing trike. Taking the full force of the impact, the trike had smashed into the back of my legs, allowing me to join Alice flying through the air and crashing into the road. I got up, anxious to see Alice. I felt an incredible sense of worry – she was there as a volunteer, giving up her entire summer to support me and this had happened. But she was awake and could talk.
Thank God she’d had her helmet on. She’d smashed her head heavily as she landed on the road and the helmet had crumpled. She remained still on the road and when the ambulances arrived they rightly tended her first, got her strapped up and later whisked away to hospital.
Ten minutes or so after the accident, our support motorhome – oblivious to what had happened – came round the corner and set eyes on the hellish sight. I can only imagine what must’ve gone through their heads. Sarah, Helen, Mark and Sam parked up, jumped out and came to help – providing reassuring, recognisable voices and faces amongst the bewildering scene.
At some point when we were trying to help Alice, someone must have noticed the blood. It hadn’t been obvious at first as it was dark and I was up and about and worrying about Alice. My neck was covered in it; my head had been smashed open. I lost consciousness and soon had my own team of paramedics.
At some point I came around and wasn’t quite the same – noticeably odd, in fact. My short-term memory was gone as I lay there being carefully strapped and braced. My mind had hit repeat: again and again I asked “Who was with me [during the accident]?” “Was Alice OK?” Is she all right? Seriously? “So did the driver stop?” I repeatedly apologised to the paramedics for burdening their evening, and to everyone there for what I could only presume was my consistent flaking out.
After four or five hours, the rest of the team were given the all clear to leave the scene and zoomed to the hospital to be there for us once again, and ended up getting just a few hours’ sleep between them. They were all just incredible.
I’d never been an emergency patient at A&E before. My memory was just as bad on arrival and, with Alice having got to the hospital way in advance, she was forced to shout out that she was OK each time by mind wanted such reassurance. My first proper memories are of being inside A&E, as if I was playing a part in Casualty. The confusion of people around me. The screaming pain of my head.
The urgent, immediate desire to get my head harness off so I could try to stop the pain. Being violently sick. The incredible, ongoing thirst on my lips as I was consistently denied water. My mum comforting me throughout (she’d arrived early at the hospital though I hadn’t recognised her for some time). And after seemingly countless scans, my open head wound finally being attended to. Four shots of anaesthetic apparently didn’t help much when the stitches went in: I screamed for all I was worth. The whole A&E experience just seemed to go on forever.
At last I was pushed on my bed through the hospital to a ward. My head thumped. I was finally in a room by maybe 5am and my abiding memory was of tall police officers dressed in yellow, taking away bits of clothing as evidence. I was dizzy and not with it but the one thing I had understood is that astonishingly they’d caught the driver.
The people in the car who witnessed the whole thing had done an amazing job. They’d clocked the car that took us out, caught up with the driver, tailed her and notified the police of the car and its numberplate. The driver had been arrested without a struggle and charged her with failing to stop at an accident and failing to report an accident. The breathalyser test highlighted the real cause of the crash: she was more than three times over the limit.
She later pleaded guilty to both charges, as well as drink driving and was banned from driving for 28 months, as well as being ordered to do community work.
Although we’d both taken incredible knocks to the head and had phenomenal bruising that came out over the next few days, Alice and I were incredibly lucky not to break any bones – or worse.
We were also fortunate that the site of the accident just happened to be outside of the only inhabited building on a long stretch of empty road; that the car had collided directly with the trike and not Alice’s legs; that there happened to be people chatting outside the pub at the time who could help straight away; and that the car in front had recognised me from the TV and its passengers turned around to see the collision and could track down the perpetrator.
We were seriously lucky to be alive and, while we’ve both struggled with injuries to the head and back in the days and weeks afterwards, I’m so thankful that we are in a position to one day, hopefully soon, finish this challenge.
Thanks to everyone who helped us that night.