It was an everyday thing to do. Stacy Dunbar popped into another room, leaving her eight-week-old baby Eve alone for a second in her bouncer. But suddenly, realising where she’d left Eve, panic seized her.
‘I had this massive meltdown,’ Stacy, 36, remembers. ‘I just ran to her and grabbed her out of the bouncer, crying.’
The little room they were in might look innocent enough to anyone else.
A pale yellow colour on the walls, a change table, a few toys and clothes strewn around. But horrendously, it held the memory of where Stacy’s eight-month-old son Nate was horrifically killed in his cot when a drunk driver ploughed through the wall of their Perth home five years ago.
Back in January 2013, Stacy and her husband Justin were awoken at 2.30am by what sounded like an explosion in Nate’s nursery.
‘The whole room was floodlit and I suddenly realised there was a car, with its headlights still on, in the middle of my son’s bedroom,’ Stacy told New Idea at the time.
A Toyota HiLux had smashed through the wall, destroying the cot, and had come to rest on Nate’s tiny chest.
He was killed instantly.
As his parents sat in the rubble of their home, trying to comprehend what had just happened, the driver of the car, 35-year-old Melissa Ann Waters, stepped over them, climbed out of the hole she’d created and walked off into the night. Waters was later found to have a blood alcohol reading of more than three times the legal limit, and she pleaded guilty to dangerous driving occasioning death and driving under the influence of alcohol.
Handed a jail sentence of three years and eight months, she was out on parole after just one year and 10 months.
‘The original sentence was hard enough to stomach, but when she got out the wound was ripped open again,’ Stacy says. ‘My son is dead and we have to live our life without him, but she gets to walk free.’ Despite this, Stacy tries not to focus on Waters or her early release from prison. ‘Forgiveness isn’t something she deserves from me, but I don’t spend my time hating her, as that just destroys my peace,’ she sighs.
Besides, Stacy has her hands full with her 12-year-old son Kai and the little whirlwind of a daughter, who came along in the wake of Nate’s death.
‘Eve has helped our healing so much,’ Stacy says of their now three-year-old girl.
‘She’s the light of our lives – so feisty and hilarious. She’ll be starting school in February, which is exciting, but a part of me feels so sad Nate will never go.’
Nate is never far from Stacy’s thoughts and she admits it was very hard when Eve hit milestones Nate never would.
‘Before that we could compare them, but then there was nothing to compare,’ Stacy says. On Eve’s first birthday, while a happy occasion, both Justin and Stacy keenly felt their loss.
‘For the first two years, we couldn’t afford to move out of the house where it happened,’ Stacy says. ‘I felt so unsafe there, I hardly ever went into Nate’s room and there was no way I’d let Eve sleep there.
The house triggered so many fears and stresses, so moving out was the best thing we’ve done.’ The family has been able to move forward and Stacy says they focus on the silver linings in life – like the fact that Nate’s death has saved others from a similar fate
‘The Pledge For Nate campaign we ran after his death, where people promised not to drink and drive, has literally saved lives,’ Stacy smiles proudly.
The Dunbars received hundreds of heartfelt messages from people saying they would never drink and drive after hearing Nate’s story.
‘Drink-driving fatalities in WA dropped to their lowest since records began 60 years ago, as a direct result of that campaign,’ Stacy says.
Five years on, in the party season, Stacy wants to remind people of Nate’s story.
‘The only thing every angel mum and dad wants is for people to remember their child, and for me, if with that remembering comes life-saving action, there’s a positive out of all this,’ Stacy says.
But the anniversary will signal another year without little Nate, and Stacy and her family plan to mark it quietly together.
‘You never know how [you] will feel on the day,’ she says. ‘Some years you’re a mess, others you take it on the chin. I want to be with my husband and children, and together we’ll just let the day happen.’
For the full story see this weeks issue of New Idea - out now!