SMH Adrian Proszenko
Jaeman Salmon reckons his second near-death experience was the scarier.
That one didn’t result in him suffering a broken neck, but it still had the potential to end in tragedy.
After a big night out last October, Salmon woke up the next morning, got behind the wheel of his Jeep Cherokee and headed to Westfield Miranda shopping centre to buy a suit. Distracted by his mobile phone, he veered onto the wrong side of Kareena Road, smashing his car and three others as he flipped.
"You hear this a lot and it actually did, everything happened in slow motion," Salmon told The Sun-Herald.
"As I was looking at my phone - it was a narrow road - I hit a parked car and I flipped and then hit another car and then another car. It was pretty scary, I was in a lot of shock afterwards.
"I’m just lucky to be here today. It’s something I really regret."
The incident resulted in a one-match NRL suspension that will keep the Eels pivot-centre out of the opening-round clash against Penrith and a $10,000 fine that is suspended for 12 months from the date of the offence.
However, the toll could have been much greater.
"It was obviously a scary experience for me, something I really regret," he said. "It was a stupid decision by myself and I’ve learned not to take things for granted. I went out the night before, went to the pub and had a few beers.
"I got up the next morning and decided to drive. It wasn’t a very good decision. I got in the car, drove and I was distracted by my phone, I got a phone call or was looking down on my phone.
"I looked up and it all just happened really fast. I crashed my car and the car flipped.
"I got taken to hospital. I was fine, I didn’t have any injuries. Then I got blood tested and it came back with a blood alcohol reading (of 0.068) from the night before.
"It obviously affected me, but seeing how it affected my family, the people around me, that’s what hit me the hardest.
"I’ve never seen my family like that before and I don’t want to put them through that ever again."
It’s not Salmon’s first brush with death. The Cronulla junior was tackled awkwardly while sliding in for a try during a NSW Combined Catholic Colleges schoolboys carnival. Feeling something wasn’t right, he went to hospital, where the medicos told him it was just muscular pain. The next day he went out and played again with what turned out to be a broken neck. Subsequent x-rays revealed two complete fractures of his C1 vertebra. Given its proximity to the brain, it’s a miracle he didn’t end up a quadriplegic. Or worse.
However, the 20-year-old, who made his NRL debut for the Eels last year, reckons the car crash left him even more shaken.
"It probably is a lot scarier than the neck," he said.
"The thing about it is I could have seriously injured myself or someone else. That really doesn’t sit well with me, I’m very lucky that didn’t happen.
"It’s a big shock walking into court. I’d never been in court or seen how it works.
"It really made me realise I can’t be doing that sort of stuff, that I really need to pull my head in."
Salmon understands the gravity of the situation and is keen to make amends. He has already completed a PCYC traffic offenders course, has undergone regular counseling and, acutely aware his rugby league career could be taken away from him in an instant, has been undertaking carpentry and strength and conditioning courses. He is scheduled to partake in community work at Cobham juvenile justice centre and will front the entire Parramatta NRL and under 20s squads as part of a presentation about the lessons he has learned.
"It’s obviously going to be very nerve-racking, it’s going to be confronting for me," Salmon said.
"I've got to face the boys and tell them … what I’ve learned from it."
Given he currently has no license, the commute from Caringbah to Parramatta for training is a long one. Salmon rides his bike from home to Caringbah station before undertaking the 90-minute journey to Parramatta. If their training schedules match up, Blake Ferguson offers him a lift from Hurstville.
"If it’s an early session I’m waking up at 4.30am," Salmon said.
Salmon is not complaining. Having been given another chance, at life and at football, he is determined to make the most of it.
"I don’t want to make bad decisions," he said.