‘Are you there?’ Boy texts best friend moments before Daylesford crash

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Barely half an hour before 11-year-old Vihaan Bhatia was killed by a car in Daylesford, he texted his best friend Udayveer Thind from his mother’s phone.

“Hey Uday, are you there?” the message, sent at 5.30pm, read.

Udayveer responded shortly after: “Yo, what’s up?” But Vihaan never responded.

Unbeknown to Udayveer, a car had just ploughed through the beer garden where Vihaan, his six-year-old brother Abeer, and their parents had been enjoying a Sunday evening with friends.

The driver was travelling westward along Albert Street when he missed a sharp right-hand bend, mounted the kerb, and drove into dozens of patrons sitting outside the Royal Daylesford Hotel.

The Bhatia family.

Vihaan and his father Vivek Bhatia died at the scene, alongside family friends Pratibha Sharma and Jatin Chugh. Sharma’s nine-year-old daughter Anvi was taken to hospital, where she later died.

Vihaan’s mother, Ruchi Bhatia, remains in the intensive care unit at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, while his brother Abeer is being treated for leg fractures and internal injuries at the Royal Children’s Hospital.

News of the tragedy began circulating among Melbourne’s Indian community on Monday morning after Vivek Bhatia failed to turn up at work after his weekend away.

Udayveer’s father, Simarjeet Thind, said the community was in disbelief. Udayveer could not stop sobbing after hearing the news, he said.

“It’s really shocking for everyone, we can’t believe it.”

The Bhatias had only moved next door to the Thinds in a new subdivision in Tarneit, in Melbourne’s west, a month and a half ago after experiencing delays with their builder.

Vivek, an Australia Post delivery driver, and Ruchi, an accountant, had just finished decking out their dream home when they headed to Daylesford for the weekend.

On Friday night, Sharma, Chugh, and Anvi had been at the Thinds’ family home, playing soccer with their two sons, as well as Vihaan and Abeer, late into the evening.

The families had been planning a neighbourhood party to celebrate Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, the following weekend.

Daylesford crash victims Vivek Bhatia and wife Ruchi Bhatia.

On Saturday morning, as the Bhatias were preparing to set off on the 90-kilometre trip to Daylesford, they handed their house keys to Thind’s wife.

“Just in case there’s an emergency,” they said before driving off.

Thind never expected to find himself on the phone with Vivek’s parents two days later to tell them what had happened. Vivek’s family will now fly to Victoria from India to make funeral arrangements and sit by Ruchi and Abeer’s bedside.

Thind said he had only met the Bhatias in July, but they had become very close friends. So much so, that they were considering changing schools, so their sons could study and play soccer together.

Wyndham City mayor Susan McIntyre went to Daylesford on Tuesday morning to lay a tribute and pay her respects to the victims. She said the incident had struck the heart of her community.

“Our community, you know, we’re heartbroken as well, really heartbroken,” she said.

She said that Wyndham was home to many first-generation migrants who might not have family support networks in Australia. This made community support more important for those who faced tragedy.

“Our community … we have people from all around the world, so people don’t necessarily have that extended family support, so our community is really supportive,” she said.

A community vigil will be held in Wyndham the coming days. Another multifaith vigil will be held in Daylesford on Wednesday afternoon at the Anglican Church Parish of Daylesford.

The memorial in Daylesford on Tuesday morning.Credit: David Estcourt

On Tuesday, police from the major collision investigations unit were poised to interview the driver of the vehicle, a 66-year-old from nearby Mount Macedon.

Detectives travelled from Melbourne to Ballarat to interview the man, who on Tuesday afternoon was still in hospital in Ballarat.

Pratibha Sharma, 44, her daughter Anvi, 9 and partner Jatin Chugh, 30 died in the Daylesford crash.

The man is not known to police, has no prior convictions and returned a negative alcohol reading at the scene.

Police will also complete a recreation of the accident at a later date.

A makeshift memorial to the victims continued to grow over the past 24 hours, with people dropping more flowers, toys and other items in memory of the five victims.

It was the last remaining sign of the accident, apart from a few tracks left in the grass and caution tape around the entrance of the pub.

On Tuesday, local traders remained sombre, with counselling services being offered to people who were impacted by the event.

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