LEGACY LIVES ON: Connor Hilton lived life to the fullest, had heaps of friends and had a heart of gold before tragically dying in a car accident.
LEGACY LIVES ON: Connor Hilton lived life to the fullest, had heaps of friends and had a heart of gold before tragically dying in a car accident. Contributed

'This is all it took': Torn family's heartbreaking warning

ALISON and Greig Hilton's lives were perfect. They had a nice home, three boys, aged 16, 17 and 18 and Alison had just started a new job she loved.

Her husband was also living the dream, as an earthmover.

One of the boys, the 17-year-old, was a normal teenage boy who loved football and playing for the USQFC.

SOCIAL MEDIA IMAGE DISCUSS USE WITH YOUR EDITOR - Connor and his younger brother Deacon loved playing football together.
SOCIAL MEDIA IMAGE DISCUSS USE WITH YOUR EDITOR - Connor and his younger brother Deacon loved playing football together. Contributed

He was living a full life.

He and his mates enjoyed outdoor adventures driving in their cars and he often went fishing with his granddad.

He had a heart of gold and if he took a liking to you, you were given a place in his heart and he made time for you, no matter your age.

But in a single moment in May 2018, their perfect world came crashing down.

Their son Connor, a high school student at Goondiwindi, was dropping his mates home after a bite to eat at Maccas, when he lost control of his car.

It was a country road, he was driving around a corner when his car hit a pothole.

Connor lost control of the car.

He wasn't wearing a seatbelt.

He was thrown out of the car.

And he was killed.

"I was literally on the phone to him seven minutes before the accident and started thinking 'he should be back by now'," mum Alison said.

"I'm ringing and ringing and ringing and then I'm getting cranky thinking why isn't he answering the phone?

"The cop at the scene knew me and could see me ringing Connor's phone, so he grabbed it and turned it off and came straight home to tell me.

"I was actually home alone. My husband was away working; our oldest son was away at TAFE and our youngest son goes to school in Toowoomba.

"So, I had to coordinate telling the rest of my family what had happened over the phone.

"Telling his brothers, that's tough. When you're not even dealing with them in person and you must tell them to hop in a car and drive home after you've just lost a child in a car accident.

"That's bloody hard."

It's been 18 months since the accident, and Alison and her husband Greig along with their two boys are still suffering hugely from their loss.

However, the Goondiwindi couple saw their tragedy as a chance to teach students a life-long lesson.

As part of the first Queensland Traffic Offence Program (QTOP) in a school, Miles State High School students got to hear and meet with guest speakers Alison and Greig.

They wanted to talk to students about how quickly things can go wrong.

"It was tough to stand up there in front of the kids and talk about what had happened to our son and our family and friends as a result of that," Mrs Hilton said.

"But hopefully they realized that it's a lifelong pain that you must live with, when you lose a child and that it affects everyone involved, and no one moves."

SOCIAL MEDIA IMAGE DISCUSS USE WITH YOUR EDITOR - Connor was like more teenage boys, just sometimes loved sitting back and playing of his phone.
SOCIAL MEDIA IMAGE DISCUSS USE WITH YOUR EDITOR - Connor was like more teenage boys, just sometimes loved sitting back and playing of his phone. Contributed

Showing her emotion, Mrs Hilton explained to the students the effect it was having on her and how there were days she would stay in bed and cry.

Watching one of her other sons graduate last week, she shed a couple of tears because it makes her think of everything Connor won't get the chance to experience.

"When you've lost a child, you feel guilty about having fun or enjoying yourself and probably one of the hardest things is now when we have family photos, you feel guilty that you are taking a photo without him in it," she said.

"It's not just the missing him, it's also missing the grandkids that we'll never get.

"You have these images your head of a big family and the grandkids and boys all being at each other's weddings.

"So, we grieve for stuff that we can never have.

"Our whole family tree has been cut and there are just branches that will never keep growing now."

 Tragically her husband lost a brother in a car accident 17 years prior however for him, that pain doesn't even come close to what he feels having lost his son.

SOCIAL MEDIA IMAGE DISCUSS USE WITH YOUR EDITOR - The three boys and their day loved doing work on the farm together.
SOCIAL MEDIA IMAGE DISCUSS USE WITH YOUR EDITOR - The three boys and their day loved doing work on the farm together. contributed

And people might think that it gets easier over time but sadly, at least for Mrs Hilton, that has not been the case.

"The two longest nights in your life ever would be the night that your child dies and the night of their funeral," she said.

"You never ever sleep through the night again.

"My last thought before I fall asleep every night is me looking at the police officer and me saying, it's Connor, isn't it? And him looking at me and I ask: he's dead, isn't he?

"The first thing that when I wake up in the morning, that is the first thought in my head. I wake up in the middle of the night and those two sentences are what is in my head all night every night."

Connor's brothers Deacon and Bailey were only 15 and 16 at the time.

For Deacon going back to school was a challenge as he felt like he was in a bubble and everyone was watching.

His whole identity changed, his mum says, suddenly being known as the kid whose brother died.

For Bailey, who worked alongside Connor, the hardest thing was going back to work.

"He had to go back to work and Connor's name was still on the board with his hours for the week and his helmet was still there where he left the job the afternoon before," Mrs Hilton said.

"Bailey was also having to come to me because I was curled up sobbing. He didn't know what to do.

"It has been a big burden on them.

"My parents, as grandparents, are struggling too. My dad and Connor were just the best of friends and Connor when he was at school, wagged a lot of school to go fishing with his pop. And now we look back at it and we're so glad he did that and spent so much time making memories and doing what made them happy."

SOCIAL MEDIA IMAGE DISCUSS USE WITH YOUR EDITOR - The Hilton family ready for the State of Origin.
SOCIAL MEDIA IMAGE DISCUSS USE WITH YOUR EDITOR - The Hilton family ready for the State of Origin. Contributed

Connor was only 17 when he died, in the car with his three best mates.

They all had plans for when they turned 18 and how exciting that time was going to be

"They've spent the weeks leading up to it contemplating, I guess what it could have been and what they're missing out on and that caused them to spiral down again," Mrs Hilton said.

"It's just a constant cycle of getting back to a point where you're okay with it and everybody's functioning and then something triggers it."

Often Connor's parents will still hear stories about their boy including that he used to go and visit an elderly lady 100km out of town to have lunch at Subway together.

That was just the kind of kid he was.

***

Josette Moffatt, Lara Hickling, Georgia Wylie, Carla Groenewald, Nikkita Finden, Layne Sinnamon, Macquarie Moffatt, Craig Hickling and Richard Makin at the QTOP session 11/11/2019.
Josette Moffatt, Lara Hickling, Georgia Wylie, Carla Groenewald, Nikkita Finden, Layne Sinnamon, Macquarie Moffatt, Craig Hickling and Richard Makin at the QTOP session 11/11/2019. Zoe Bell

IT WAS a tough and emotional story for the students at Miles High School to hear, however an important one about the real-life impacts of a spilt-second mistake.

Mrs Hilton said she hoped their story can make just one student stop and think.

"We want them to think, we are only on the farm and driving 80 km per hour, but this seat belt could save my life, I'll put it on because that's all it took."

The QTOP brought to Miles school because of two Goondiwindi locals, Richard Makin and Billy Petersen, who were both caught for drink driving.

They did the QTOP through the court process, found it incredibly valuable and knew it was the sort of things that should be available for students.

For the last 12 months they have working with QTOP, the principal of Miles State High and Origin Energy who were able to subsidise the course.

Miles State High School will welcome the course back next year.


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