By Steven Glover
 
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There is a bend in Rowes Road, 1.8 km south of Dandaragan Road near Moora, which changed the lives of two police families forever. 
 
On the afternoon of Wednesday October 25, 2000, Detective Senior Constable Michael Jenkins was behind the wheel of an unmarked police car with then Constable Aaron Cleaver in the passenger’s seat. 
 
They were returning to Moora Police Station from Perth after making inquiries into a historical sex assault case. 
 
As Michael tried to negotiate the right-hand bend on the unsealed road, Aaron remembers hearing him say: ‘oh shit’, before Michael lost control of the vehicle and collided with a large group of Banksia trees. The result was catastrophic.
 
The car was sitting on its passenger side with both officers trapped inside and unconscious.
 
When Aaron regained consciousness, his left side was pinned to the passenger door and on his right side was Michael. 
 
He could just move both his arms from below the elbow which was enough for him to be able to access the radio and the siren box with his right hand and move Michael’s head with his left. 
 
“I was able to call urgent to VKI. At first, they thought we had come across a prang because they were asking how many cars and then they clicked that it is us and the radio goes crazy with VKI getting the Moora station and others,” Aaron said.
 
“I hit the siren box on a hail Mary that someone would hear us and as it turned out someone did.”
 
A local farmer was working on his paddock and after hearing the constant whaling of the siren went down to investigate and came across the police officers trapped in the mangled vehicle.
 
“I remember VKI asking a lot of questions, probably quite legitimate ones, but I was getting confused and annoyed and some questions didn’t make sense. I passed the handset out to the farmer and said: ‘look, can you talk to them?” Aaron told Police News.
 
Michael, still unconscious, and Aaron were trapped in the car for a couple of hours as local volunteer fire fighters and their colleagues from Moora Police Station tried to free them.
 
“I was complaining of pain from the neck so I guess they had to presume the same with Mike so it was quite a delicate process, they couldn’t just drag us out,” Aaron said.
 
“They took us to Moora Hospital and that is when I saw Trevor Thorpe from Major Crash and Stefan Durka. I remember when I saw them at the hospital it sort of clicked – this is bad.”
 
Michael’s wife Kylie was waiting for her husband to arrive at Moora Hospital and not long after his arrival she received the worst possible news.
 
“A doctor came out to speak with me. He told me that Michael had no chance of recovery and he didn't believe Michael would make it to Perth in the ambulance. He explained that Michael had a serious head injury,” Kylie said.
 
There was no room in the ambulance for Kylie to be with Michael when he was transferred to Perth, so she followed in a police car. 
 
At Royal Perth Hospital, she remembers the waiting room crowded with family, friends and police officers all rallying around and offering their love and support.
 
“At some stage, the doctor came and spoke to me. He told me that not only were Michael's head injuries horrific but that he had three breaks in his spine and there was absolutely no way that he could come out of this accident alive,” she said.
 
“I was devastated because I had held onto a glimmer of hope that the Moora doctor had got it wrong. That was not to be.”
 
Michael would remain on life support for 24 hours while his organs were donated and to allow time for his family, friends and colleagues to say goodbye.
 
“The day after the accident, I remember walking out of intensive care into the hospital corridor to be greeted by a sea of detectives and uniformed officers. They were all there to see Michael,” Kylie said.
 
“The life support system was turned off and it was horrible. I felt like I was deserting Michael. I felt so helpless because there was nothing that I could do other than to say goodbye.” 
 
As a result of the crash, Aaron spent a few days in hospital and sustained fractured vertebrae, a broken nose, pushed in teeth, nerve damage lip, whiplash and significant bruising– he was the second last person to say goodbye to Michael.
 
 
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Kylie’s life had been turned upside down in that split second on Rowes Road.
 
She met Michael in high school when they were 14, 15 years later, at the age of 29, Michael died leaving her and their two daughters, Teana (five) and Alyssa (18 months), behind.
 
After starting with WA Police Force in 1990, Michael made his mark as a detective. He started as a probationary detective with Macro Taskforce before joining Homicide and then Major Crime Squad.
 
Chasing more general duties detective experience, Michael, Kylie and the girls transferred to Moora at the beginning of the year 2000.
 
Even though he had moved on from Major Crime, his former work colleagues rallied around Kylie and the girls.
 
“From the time of Michael's death to the day of the funeral, I received lots of visitors, mainly detective colleagues of Michael’s, who would drop in to pay their respects,” Kylie said. 
 
“Jack Lee came with money from the Detectives Contingency Fund. I will be forever grateful for this assistance, as unbeknown to the contingency fund members, our bank accounts had been frozen and I couldn't access any funds. 
 
“I would like to thank the Major Crime Detectives and in particular Jack Lee who were an absolute godsend by helping me paint my home, putting up security lights, doing my garden and always offering some help if needed.”
 
While the Jenkins Family were overwhelmed with assistance and support from the Blue Family, issues began to emerge with Michael’s Will – it was not valid.
 
“After the funeral was over, the nightmare continued for me when I realised the ‘Will’ that I thought Michael had made was in fact a Will instruction sheet provided by the Union for Michael to complete and return so that a final document could be prepared for signing,” Kylie said.
 
Michael’s estate stood in limbo for three-and-a-half years, leaving Kylie and her girls with barely enough money to survive week-by-week.
 
“You do not want to put yourself through the situation where you’ve got no access to money because you haven’t filled in your paperwork properly. It was the biggest heartache not knowing how I was going to pay a mortgage and basic food bills when there was money sitting there.
 
“It has really hard as I had nobody except the Union and Legacy to help me financially.”
 
Kylie was frustrated that what she believed to be Michael’s simple Will was not recognised because it had not been fully completed.
 
“It was very confusing. I had no understanding of the court system in that way and it was a struggle to know what was going on,” she said.
 
“I know that we both thought what we had filled out was a Will but it wasn’t.
 
“Don’t assume, ask the questions necessary to make sure everything is finalised because you are already dealing with enough you don’t want anyone dealing with that as well.”
 
While Kylie battled with the issues relating to Michael’s Will, Aaron also had his own battles after the crash. He still thinks about Michael, the crash and the what ifs.
 
“Not every memory when I think of him is a sad one. Sometimes they are a bit funny. Sometimes you think what if? Maybe it was a question of centimetres or if the car had side airbags. Sometimes they go through your mind, it’s not healthy but I think it is not unnatural to think of those sorts of things,” Aaron said.
 
“I don’t like lying on my left side when my neck is aching because it reminds me of it to this day.”
 
The crash has had a significant impact on Aaron’s mental health and he has been very open about his battle and does not hide away from his struggles.
 
He said while it was good to know he was not alone, it was quite sad so many of his fellow police officers were struggling.
 
“I think when this was starting up, it was probably as much of me not knowing that it was coming on until it overwhelmed me.
 
“Initially, I was worried if someone found out about my mental health struggles and it puts so much more pressure on. Now, it is not just the police to speak out but I see it in the street. I saw a car with a big sticker on the front saying: ‘It’s not weak to speak’ and I thought haven’t we come a long way where talking about our mental health struggles is not a shameful thing.
 
“To be open about it, some of these people will never realise that their little act of kindness is worth more than 10 grand of therapy. It is just thoughtfulness, it doesn’t need to be anything amazing even a text message sometimes is enough.
 
“I know there are plenty out there that are suffering and whether they have had a particular massive event or just a series of things, just get the help that would be my message.”
 
In November, after being knocked back on two previous occasions, Aaron was awarded the WA Police Star Medal.
 
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The Police Star was introduced to recognise police officers who are killed, or seriously injured, while carrying out policing duties and it acknowledges the unique and unpredictable dangers of policing in the community and the sacrifices police officers make while serving the community.
 
While he is thankful for the recognition, Aaron is torn.
 
“It [getting knocked back twice] probably hurt me more than I admitted to myself. I was like yeah whatever but deep down and looking back it hurt,” Aaron told Police News.
 
“It is a little bit bittersweet for the memories it brings up but it is a nice recognition. Nothing is going to take the horrible memories or the injuries away or bring Mike back but it is a way he can be remembered.”
 
Aaron’s wife Jane, who herself lobbied for Aaron to get this medal, along with their three children attended the ceremony last month.
 
Aaron said he believed his children would benefit from seeing him get this medal.
 
“They are aware of what happened. My friend who  I worked with went to heaven and sometimes they will ask a whole pile of questions because their sister is in heaven. They will ask: ‘Do they know each other?’ things like that.
 
“I think there will be some value for them, they might understand why Daddy is grumpy on certain days. Whilst they are still fairly young now, in time they will understand what happened.”
 
Kylie is grateful that Aaron has received the medal because his whole life changed as a result of the crash. 
 
Aaron was super strong to my face but I know how much he changed from being the copper I knew in Moora to the copper after the accident. He deserved this medal a long time ago and I am super happy for him for him to be finally recognised,” Kylie said. 
 
“I think he is amazing because of his battles he is constantly fighting and at stages I didn’t realise how bad it was for him.
 
“In hindsight, I look back and he was super strong for me. He would take calls in the middle of the night from me, he would come over so we could hang out or go to Freo for a coffee.
 
“He tried to be there as much as he could when I needed him. He was very unselfish with his time for me and my girls.”
 
Kylie is also grateful for the support given to her by the Union and WA Police Legacy.
 
“I am so lucky that the Union and Legacy have done what they did for me and I am glad that Michael was a contributing Member. Without those two groups in my life, I’m not sure where we would have been without them.
 
“Jack Lee should be commended for what he did for me as well as Mike Dean, they are both on the same level as being the kindest two people I have ever met.”
 
On the anniversary of Michael’s death, WAPU hosted a gathering of Michael and Aaron’s close family and friends to commemorate 20 years since the accident which changed the course of two police families’ lives forever.
 
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