A NIGHT out with friends ended in tragedy when teenager Reece Whitehead was killed at the age of 14 after being hit by a car in an accident while riding his bike.
AASMA DAY talks to Reece’s heartbroken mother about every mohter’s worst nightmare and family and friends describe the gaping hole Reece’s death has left in their lives.
A panicked tap-tap-tapping on the front door sent a chill rippling through Helen Whitehead’s body.
She felt a sense of foreboding as the nervous nature of the knocking indicated it was bad news, but nothing prepared her for the anguish that followed.
Helen Whitehead, 35, also mum of Cameron, 11 and Elliott, one, who lives on Brant Road, Farringdon Park, Preston, recalls the horrendous night last August which is ingrained in her memory.
She explains: “Reece had been to his friend’s house and was on his way home when it happened.
“It was just after 10pm and I was sat near the window having a quick game on my mobile phone expecting Reece to come back and either stay home or tell me he was going elsewhere.
“Reece’s dad Jamie Knowles was playing on the Playstation, Elliott was asleep in bed and Cameron was staying at my sister’s house.
“Then all of a sudden, I heard this quick and panicked knocking on the door. I felt it was bad news as it just didn’t sound right.
“I thought someone was in trouble so was scared and asked Jamie to answer the door. But I never imagined it was anything to do with Reece.
“Jamie opened the door and it was Alex Smith, one of Reece’s friends.
“He told Jamie to go quickly with him to the garage nearby as Reece had been hit by a car.
“Jamie jumped straight on his bike and went.”
The accident happened on August 27 last year when Reece, a pupil at Larches House School, was riding his bike along New Hall Lane at around 10pm.
Reece didn’t hear one of his friends telling him not to cross the road. He followed him on his bike and was struck by an oncoming BMW.
Jamie stayed with Reece and when paramedics arrived, he went to get Helen.
Helen remembers: “They told me I could get in the ambulance with Reece.
“I held Reece’s hand all the way to the hospital saying ‘Hail Marys and ‘Our Fathers’ praying he would be all right.
“Reece just looked like he was asleep.
“At that point, I never thought he would die. I thought he would pull through.”
Reece was taken to Royal Preston Hospital where he had a CT scan.
About half-an-hour later, a doctor told the family Reece was very poorly and his brain was swollen and needed monitoring with a camera.
Reece was taken to the recovery unit and put on a life support machine.
Helen says: “Everything seems a blur and I don’t know how long it was when three doctors walked into the family room.
“I could tell straight away from their faces it was bad news.
“One of the doctor’s chin started going as though he was going to cry.
“He said: ‘I’m really sorry, Reece’s injuries were so severe, there is nothing more we can do.’”
Reece had suffered an irreversible head injury and his family went in to see him before the machines were switched off.
Helen says: “It all felt like a terrible dream.
“Me, Reece’s nan and grandad, Reece’s dad Jamie, his two aunties Joanne and Karen and his uncle David all went into the room.
“Reece was lying there and looked like he was sleeping. When I touched him, he was freezing cold.
“I kissed him and hugged him and said: ‘Come on Reece, you’ll be OK mate.’
“Then they switched the machines off and he was gone. I still can’t believe it now.
“I went home in a daze and Jamie’s mum and dad were there looking after Elliott who was in bed.
“Jamie’s mum asked: ‘Is Reece all right?’ and I had to say: ‘No. He’s died.’ The words didn’t seem real.
“I just didn’t want to believe it and sat there at 6am thinking the hospital would ring any moment to tell me it was all a mistake and Reece was OK.”
Helen’s son Cameron was 10 at the time and her youngest Elliott was only four-months-old.
Helen recalls: “When Cameron came home from my sisters, I had to explain to him that Reece had died.
“Cameron just screamed and shouted: ‘Reece, Reece, Reece! He’s my best friend!’
“It was heartbreaking. They were very close and Reece always protected Cameron and looked out for him.”
Helen confesses she still hasn’t come to terms with Reece’s death and even now keeps expecting Reece to come home.
She explains: “I keep looking out of the window wishing Reece would come around the corner with his friends.
“I love seeing Reece’s friends as they are all good lads. But seeing them also upsets me as I feel Reece should be with them.”
Reece wasn’t wearing a helmet while riding his bike and Helen fervently wishes he was, as it may have saved his life. She says: “I want to urge other people to wear helmets at all times when riding bikes. It could save their life.
“Now, I won’t let Cameron get on his bike at all until he has his helmet on.”
Trying to describe the impact Reece’s death has had on her life, Helen says: “Words cannot describe how horrendous it is to lose a child.
“Reece was not a bad lad, but he wasn’t an angel. He was a rum ‘un like any other teenager.
“He was a lovable, respectable and caring lad. There’s an old lady who lives around the corner and Reece used to do her garden and put her bins out.
“Reece was known for always wearing his beanie hat and his cheeky grin.
“His ambitions included becoming a chef, then an electrician and then a plasterer.
“But one thing he always said was: ‘I’m not going to go on the dole, I’m going to make something of my life.’
“His nanna once asked Reece if he wanted children and he replied: ‘Yes, but only when I’m 25.’
“I feel sad whenever I think of that as I feel Reece has been robbed of his life and everything he wanted to do.
“Reece was like my best friend as well as my son. We had lots of laughs and he’d say: ‘I love you Mum’ around 10 times a day.
“The last time I saw Reece alive was when he was going out with his friends. We were chatting and having a laugh and he turned to me and said: ‘You’re mad you are Mum!”’
“I never realised that would be the last time I saw him alive.”
Reece’s funeral was held on September 9 at a packed St Joseph’s Church.
To remember Reece, his family and friends have got ‘Reece’s Park’ on Mardale Road near his home in Farringdon Park.
Reece’s Park features a bench, a plaque and flowers.
Helen says: “On Bonfire Night, we held a remembrance night for Reece with fireworks at Reeces’s Park.
“Then on March 27, what should have been Reece’s 15th birthday, we had a party at his park with a DJ, buffet, fireworks and a cake with his photo on it.
“I want to thank everyone on the estate for all their support and everything they have done for Reece’s memory and helping the family through this difficult time.”