Constable Nicole Watkins and the crash scene of January 5, 2016. Photos: Karleen Minney, ACT PolicingPolice officers routinely manage crash scenes, but rarely are they trapped in a car while doing so.
Constable Nicole Watkins was on duty while driving along Pialligo Avenue on the rainy morning of January 5, 2016, when she hit a truck head on.
She had been travelling at roughly 70-kilometres an hour towards Queanbeyan at 8.30am, when an approaching truck indicated to turn onto Sutton Road. The truck turned in front of the police car and crashed into the driver’s side.
Despite being crushed at the waist and left mostly immobile, Ms Watkins’ only concerns were of her injured partner in the passenger seat and the on-lookers’ safety.
She was recently awarded a prestigious federal police medal for her impressive management of the scene, which included looking after her colleague and organising traffic control.
The crash left Ms Watkins with a dislocated knee and torn triceps as a result of her elbow falling through the windscreen. But her mind immediately turned to her partner, Constable Yvonne Brian, who suffered a cracked sternum and torn ankle ligaments.
Canberra police woman Nicole Watkins was recently awarded the highest honour at the AFP award. Photo: Karleen Minney
“She was laying, shaking, hugging herself, and I could see that she was in a lot of pain,” Ms Watkins said.
“I told her that it was okay, that I was here and we were getting some help.”
The force of the crash propelled the car’s radio off the dashboard and onto Ms Brian’s chest. To call for back-up, Ms Watkins managed to twist around and grab her own radio from the back of her uniform, despite being stuck between the steering wheel and the front of the car.
Her attention then turned to the bystanders on the road.
“People were standing on the road, and I didn’t want that to cause another collision,” Ms Watkins said.
“So I told a member of the public how to direct traffic for me. I just wanted to keep the traffic flowing to prevent another collision and make sure that everyone trying to assist us or standing on the side of the road was safe.”
Ms Watkins said she was extremely lucky to have escaped the crash without more serious injuries. Photo: ACT Policing
The uninjured truck driver was apologetic.
After taking care of traffic diversion and telling a nurse that had pull over to help her partner, Ms Watkins was yet to think of herself. As her patrol car was one of the few in the area at the time, she was concerned about the lack of resources on the road.
“I thought, oh no, what will they do without our car if something happens?”
Fear barely crossed her mind in the 15-minutes between the crash and back-up arriving, except for when she observed the smoke coming from the engine and realised she and her partner could not escape if it went up in flames.
The sound of sirens in the distance signalled a lifeline. Both ACT and NSW emergency services turned up to help.
It took about 45 minutes free Ms Watkins from the car. The moderate pain she had so far felt was intensified as rescuers moved materials around to untrap her, placing pressure on her legs.
Ms Watkins took three weeks off work and returned to regular duties on February 24. She has since joined the criminal investigations team.
Her partner’s recovery is ongoing.
On March 23 Ms Watkins was awarded the Commissioner’s Medal for Excellence for handling the crash scene with dedication and tenacity – a big achievement four years into her policing career.
The medal sits on her desk “to remind me of what I have achieved, to help me continue to achieve great things, and as a career driver.”
Since the incident she had concluded her actions were equally a result of her training and her instinct to worry about others’ before herself. She was honoured to receive the medal, thankful for the AFP’s support and grateful for her speedy recovery.
“I feel extremely lucky because it could have been much worse.”
“I’m grateful for every day.”
The Canberra Times