Peter Bellion is a 53-year-old former crash scene investigator and reconstruction expert from Victoria Police’s Major Collision Investigation Group.
Over Peter’s 30-year career with Victoria Police, he has attended more than 2,000 fatalities, including the deaths of 20 police officers. He has also probably seen more broken bodies and carnage than any other police officer in Australia. But the last thing he expected was to become another casualty himself along the way.
The first signs that something wasn’t right came after attending the death of police officer, Senior Constable Rennie Page at Benalla in April 2005. Then more significantly, after Peter attended the Kerang rail disaster. The latter was in June 2007, when a V/Line train heading from Swan Hill to Melbourne was sheared open after colliding with a truck at a level crossing. Eleven people – including several children – were killed and many more were injured.
After spending hours combing through the debris for answers as to how and why the collision had occurred, Peter caught a glimpse of media reports that included photographs of several of the young victims. They were similar in age to his own children, causing the magnitude of the tragedy to immediately hit home. He felt incredibly flat and cried when he returned home.
Just a few months before Kerang, he had also attended the deadly Burnley Tunnel incident on his youngest daughter’s birthday. That crash claimed the lives of three people who’d been incinerated after a fireball erupted when three trucks and four cars collided in busy morning traffic.
After spending 16 hours reconstructing what had happened in the tunnel, Peter took a call from a relative of one of the deceased who was desperate to be told that there had been some sort of terrible mistake. Unfortunately there hadn’t been and the call is something he will never forget. It was in the months after Kerang that Peter noticed he was suffering from the uncontrollable shakes.
It didn’t matter where he was or what he was doing, his body seemed to be overcome by the massive amounts of adrenaline surging through his veins in response to his ever-escalating stress levels. And no matter what he tried to do, he struggled to find a way to stop it.
“I can also remember walking around the golf course one morning in the September after Kerang and I just broke down and couldn’t stop crying,” he said.
“After somehow pulling myself together, I showered, put on my uniform and as usual went straight in to work.” But this time, some of his colleagues realised that something wasn’t right.
“They could see I was pretty emotional so they sat me down and had a chat to me and suggested I take some time off. They put me on WorkCover and I had to go to the doctors and sit through independent assessments and talk about things I was trying to forget and get away from. All that stuff made everything worse because they send you to a different person every time and so you’ve got to go through things from the beginning. The nights leading up to it you’re an emotional wreck because you know you’re going to have to go through it all again, and then you end up really emotional afterwards, so it wrecks you for days and days afterwards and all you want to do is sleep,” he said.
Since Peter was medically retired due to ill-health in October 2016, Peter’s main focus has been trying to get his health back on track. Peter knows his condition is something that will be with him for the rest of his life. He also can’t escape the constant triggers that set his pulse racing: a helicopter flying overhead or driving just about anywhere across the state given he has attended fatal crashes on most of Melbourne’s main roads and highways.
“They say once you’ve got PTSD you’ve always got it, you just have to manage it so you can get on with your life,” he said. “That’s what I’m trying to do.”
Reviewed 15 May 2019