Lorry driver recalls moment of head-on crash with another HGV
It had seemed like a typical Monday for Gary Rees. About halfway through his shift he was listening to his radio as he drove a DHL lorry full of wooden pallets through Oakdale. But when he turned a corner he faced a terrifying sight.
“I haven’t a clue what I was thinking about before it happened,” said Gary. “I think it was Wynne Evans presenting on BBC Radio Wales. I remember going round the bend and there it was. I had nowhere to go.”
The Caerphilly dad-of-two had almost no time to react as a lorry on the wrong side of the B4251 headed straight for him. “I literally just had to take the impact.” You can get more stories like this straight to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletters here. Read next: Heavy armed police presence and helicopter called to town centre The 55-year-old managed to make a slight turn towards the trees.
He believes this may have saved both his life and that of Mariusz Korkosz, who later told police he had experienced a coughing fit as he spent well over 20 seconds on the wrong side of the road. The head-on crash, which happened shortly after 12pm on July 4, has left Gary with severe injuries which he fears could be life-changing. Gary, who had never been involved in an accident in 34 years of driving HGVs, said: “I was unconscious for 30 to 40 minutes, so I gather.
There was a gentleman first on the scene who made the call to emergency services and stopped people going past. He thought I was a goner, police have told me. They thought it was a fatality as well, because they couldn’t get any response out of me.
“I woke up and I remember a policeman squeezing my hand and saying: ‘Oh I got a response out of him.’ He asked me to squeeze his hand and he said: ‘Stay with me.'”
The scene after the two lorries collided head-on (Image: CPS/Gwent Police)
The lorries had been travelling at 25-30mph. Both crumpled at the front with broken glass strewn across the scene. “I couldn’t believe the amount of emergency services,” said Gary. “My legs were trapped under the steering wheel and my head was in horrific pain because I think it took most of the impact from the crash. I’m not sure if the airbags went off.
I don’t remember a lot.” Gary faded in and out of consciousness as firefighters cut him from the lorry and an ambulance took him to University Hospital of Wales. After arriving he said he was relieved to hear from police that the other driver had no injuries.
“The front of the lorry had crushed my legs,” he added. “I had swelling in my skull but outside the brain. I was told I was very close to injuring my brain. The doctors said I was very lucky to get away with the injuries I did.”
Gary Rees was injured in an Oakdale crash (Image: John Myers)
Gary broke three fingers and needed 12 stitches on his right hand but he was able to leave hospital after 24 hours without any operations. “I am a very lucky person,” he said. “Someone was looking down on me on July 4, I can guarantee that.”
But in the weeks since the crash Gary was so plagued by headaches that his wife Hayley took him back to hospital out of fear that doctors had missed a bleed on the brain, which did not prove to be the case. A huge bump remains on his forehead, however, and could take months to go down. Gary is using crutches to get around but his right leg remains in agony and the damage to it will not be clear until he has another scan.
He is on strong medication for the pain. Korkosz, who normally resides with his wife and children in Poland, had 14 years’ experience driving HGVs. He often drove in the UK and had no points on his licence.
He had just delivered some goods to Pen-Y-Fan Industrial Estate before he drove on the wrong side of one road, then another, before crashing. The 46-year-old admitted causing serious injury by dangerous driving and cried through much of his Newport Magistrates’ Court hearing. Magistrates rejected his claim that he had seen stars because of a coughing fit — which they said could not be heard on the dashcam footage — and imposed a 20-week jail term.
Gary Rees (Image: John Myers)
Gary did not wish to criticise the sentence, and said he felt compassion for Korkosz. “We are all lorry drivers,” he said. “It could have happened to a UK driver travelling in his country.
We will never know what made him go on the wrong side of the road. But with him being a long way from his family in Poland, I feel sympathetic towards him. Hopefully he can get his time done and get home.”
He was grateful to DHL for continuing to pay his wages while he recovered. He normally works as a bouncer a couple of nights a week but believes it may be “a long-term process” before he can return to either career. “I don’t know how bad my leg is or how I’m going to feel emotionally about getting back in the truck. Am I going to want to be behind a wheel again?
It’s my livelihood so when I am fit I will go back. “It’s not me to be off work. I’ve always been on the go, always doing stuff.
At the moment I’m stuck sitting in a chair or in bed. There’s only so much telly I can watch, although I’ve found some decent stuff on Netflix. Django Unchained — that’s a cracking film that is.”
With a laugh he added: “I’m having cards and visitors all the time — it’s getting a bit too much. After the court case I had to turn my phone off because I had 156 messages and phone calls off people. Everyone had seen the footage on WalesOnline and they couldn’t believe it.
The whole family and all my friends have been really good.”
Gary paid tribute to the passers-by and emergency services who helped save his life. “You never get a chance to thank these people in person, but your life is in their hands for a time.” You can read the report on Korkosz’s sentencing here.