Crash devastates Wyndham

Candles laid beneath a portrait of the Sharma family at the vigil for the Dayelsford crash victims in Point Cook on Thursday. (Cade Lucas)

Cade Lucas

It was the sunny Sunday in Daylesford that gave rise to one of Wyndham’s darkest weeks.

November 5 was the day before the unofficial Melbourne Cup public holiday, two days before the proper one and the famed spa town was bustling with people escaping the city.

Among them were three families relaxing in the roadside beer garden of the Royal Daylesford Hotel, when at about 6pm, an SUV mounted the curb and crashed into them.

What followed was a scene that police described as one that first responders would never forget.

Four people were killed, another later died in hospital and four more were seriously injured.

It was a horrendous turn of events, but one that for Wyndham, was about to get much worse.

The following day the identities of the five victims were revealed. All were from Wyndham and all from its large, but tightly bound Indian community.

Among them were an entire family: 44-year-old Point Cook woman Pratibha Sharma, her husband, 30-year-old Jatin Chugh, and nine-year-old daughter Anvi.

Thirty eight-year-old Tarneit father Vivek Bhatia and his 11-year-old son Vihaan were also killed at the scene while his 36-year-old wife Ruchi Bhatia and six-year-old son Abeer suffered serious injuries and remain in intensive care.

A 43-year-old Kyneton woman and a 38-year-old Cockatoo man were injured and both flown to the Royal Melbourne Hospital, while an 11-month-old boy with them was injured but is in a stable condition at the Royal Children’s Hospital.

The baby’s mother, a 34-year-old woman from Cockatoo, emerged unscathed.

Wyndham, and especially its Indian community, did not.

Just a week out from Diwali, India’s largest annual celebration, its local diaspora was instead forced to mourn two young families who represented the best of them.

Pratibha Sharma was remembered a vibrant, ambitious woman, a former candidate for state parliament, a recently admitted lawyer and a committed volunteer.

“She was a very, very big personality. A good, kind hearted lady.” recalled Gurjit Singh, secretary of Australian Sikh Support where Ms Sharma volunteered.

The Bhatias were described as a typical, hard working, humble migrant family who’d only just bought their first home.

“They were very excited to get into a new house about 6 weeks ago,“ said family friend Vivek Handa.

“Everything they’d dreamt for, everything they’d aspired for was gone within a second.”

A fundraising page for Ruchi and Abeer Bhatia was set up with the goal of raising $50,000 for the surviving mother and son. At last count it had raised more than $137,000.

Wreaths were laid at the crash site, vigils were held in Daylesford and Point Cook and dignitaries from Premier Jacinta Allan down, paid respects and expressed their grief.

Meanwhile the man who was behind the wheel of the white BMW SUV remains nameless and faceless, the circumstances surrounding the incident and any possible charges, unclear.

The 66 year old Mount Macedon man was interviewed by investigators in hospital where he was being treated for shock.

No drugs or alcohol were found in his system and he is not known to police.

Family and friends gathered at last week’s vigil in Point Cook expressed frustration and anger at the continued uncertainty.

They want justice to be done.

As with the grieving process, that’ll require a long, painful journey.