Grieving mum forced to work with daughter’s killer driver
THE mother of an eight-year-old girl killed in a horrific car crash on her way to a netball carnival has to work alongside the woman who fell asleep at the wheel and sparked the unimaginable tragedy.
Oxenford State School teacher Leona Pauline Paraha, 69, had been entrusted to drive Olivia Douglas to the carnival in Bundaberg on September 14, when she veered onto the wrong side of the road and smashed into an oncoming ute on the Bruce Highway, near Childers.
The driver of the ute, Shane Old, 52, also died.
Olivia's mother Tegan Mitchell - who is also Paraha's colleague at the school - was driving with her son in a nearby car when the crash occurred.
Paraha had fallen asleep at the wheel in broad daylight. She and another passenger in her car suffered serious but non-life-threatening injuries.
The experienced teacher, who also previously worked with Olivia's stepfather, Tim Stark, was charged with two counts of driving without due care and attention in December.
The Courier-Mail can now reveal the heartbreak Olivia's family has been forced to endure since the tragedy, including crossing paths with Paraha at the school on multiple occasions, after she yesterday pleaded guilty to both counts in Childers Magistrates Court.
Outside court, Olivia's family said they desperately wanted Paraha to own up to what she had done.
Olivia's aunt, Taren Turner, said they weren't expecting the matter to be finalised yesterday and hoped for more information.
"We're thankful for the guilty plea," Ms Turner said.
"That's one step towards owning her actions.
"We want some clarity and some details, and this is the process to go through to get that information."
Olivia's mother and aunts donned their little girl's favourite hair accessory, Jojo bows, as a tribute to her.
"This isn't somewhere we wanted to find ourselves today, but we're here on this journey because we need to try and understand how this happened to our girl," Ms Turner said.
"And for us, the finalisation of this court process is not going to bring us any closure, and it's not going to mend our broken hearts, and it sure as hell isn't going to bring our girl back to us."
Olivia was the face of The Courier-Mail's road safety campaign in November.
At the time, Ms Mitchell told of the nightmares she endured in the lead-up to the family's first Christmas without Olivia.
"We used to say 'I love you' every night. We used to say it religiously. Now I look back and she doesn't say it back anymore, it's just so hard," Ms Mitchell said through tears.
"Every day you wake up and hope that it was just a bad dream and it's not."
It was in her office where Olivia's aunt, Liz Mitchell, learned of Olivia's death. Her sister Ms Turner called at 1.45pm that day to inform her. Liz collapsed in a ball of emotion. She has since tried rearranging her office so that her surroundings are not a constant reminder of that day, but it has not worked.
Most Fridays, when the clock strikes 1.45pm, she is pulled back in time to that phone call.
Magistrate Terry Doroux said a further court appearance would be necessary.
The matter was adjourned for sentencing on May 15 in Bundaberg Magistrates Court. Paraha was released on bail.