Death of two girls in Dubai car accident still haunts family friend

While the younger girl died at the scene, the older teen was treated in the ICU for a week before succumbing to internal injuries.

Shagufta Usman and her husband Usman Shaikh survived an accident that killed two children of a family friend. Reem Mohammed / The National
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SHARJAH // The death of two young girls, killed as family and friends returned from a birthday party in Al Ain, still haunts Shagufta Usman 16 years after the accident.

“It was, and is, the most painful incident of our life; we lost two beautiful girls, one was 18 and the other girl only 14 and they lost their lives through no fault of their own,” Mrs Usman said.

While the younger girl died at the scene, the older was in ICU for a week before succumbing to internal injuries.

“Even so many years later, thinking of those moments makes me cry. It is impossible to forget because the memories come back in an instant.”

Mrs Usman, a marketing consultant who works in Sharjah, was headed back to Dubai in September 2000 after the party. There were eight passengers packed into the sedan, including her two young sons and three children of family friends. The parents had gone back to Dubai earlier. None of the passengers, except for the driver, also a family friend, were wearing seat belts.

The car swerved a few times as the driver fiddled with the radio, then hit a pole. All the passengers were thrown from the car except for Mrs Usman’s husband, who was weighed down by an icebox on his lap.

Mrs Usman and the 18-year-old were taken to hospital by helicopter. “I was told in hospital later about the deaths, but I was in total denial. I did not want to accept it,” said Mrs Usman, who has had seven operatons on her left leg and will require a knee replacement.

It took her older son, who was six at the time of the accident, a fortnight to regain consciousness. He suffered a dislocated shoulder and internal bleeding that required his spleen be removed. Her three-year-old son dislocated his hip and suffered head injuries. Her husband suffered a hairline spine fracture that still causes nagging pain.

The driver suffered minor injuries and was jailed until he paid blood money for the girls’ death.

Safety has since become a family priority with seat belts a must for all passengers.

Mrs Usman tried to keep in touch with the family friends whose daughters died, but one moved back to Pakistan and the other rebuffed her approaches. “The guilt is too much because the girls were travelling with us,” she said. “All of us were scarred badly because we were so close. One family didn’t want anything to do with us, they really blamed us for the accident.”

She retells the story so others can learn from their mistakes.

“People must be educated that the car is just a piece of machinery, it must be driven carefully,” she said. “The trauma we suffered was massive.”

The agony of witnessing a fatal accident is permanent.

“Injuries sustained to the brain and bone can take months and years to heal,” said Dr Nithyanandan Ramakrishnan, from Medeor hospital.

“But the impact if children die is lifelong. The death of a child can drive families apart.”