Model's life 'ruined' after being hit by drink-driver on her way to photoshoot

Rachel Downes
Rachel Downes -Credit:Staffordshire Police

A model says her life has been 'ruined' after she suffered horrendous injuries in a head-on crash with a drink driver. Rachel Downes almost died twice, broke nearly all of the bones in her body and went on to try to take her own life after the West Midlands incident.

The then 28-year-old was on her way to a photoshoot at 10am on November 21, 2021 when her life was changed forever. She was left in a coma for three weeks.

Rachel has spent the last two years trying to rebuild her broken body and life. Despite her battle with the mental and physical consequences of the crash, she has now opened up bravely about her ordeal.

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When she woke up, she had no memory of what happened to her. She was not even expected to survive the crash - but that day has changed her life forever.

"It honestly feels like it was a dream," Rachel said. "When I woke up from the coma, my body felt heavy and I couldn't move much. It’s not something you can really imagine unless you've experienced it yourself.”

Rachel was also a fitness instructor at the time. Along with her partner, Matt, she used to go outdoor rock climbing and bouldering.

She said: "I wanted to be up on my feet right away. I don’t think I even questioned why I was in hospital to begin with.

"To this day, I have no idea how I managed it, but I pulled myself up, shuffled myself to the very end of the bed and swung my legs through this gap in the safety bars that were on the side.

"I did manage to launch myself off the bed, but rather than landing on my feet, I landed straight on my face." After an MRI scan, she discovered the full extent of the damage she had sustained.

She said: “I asked the surgeon to give me a list of what I’d broken, to which he responded, ‘It’d be easier for me to tell you what isn’t broken’ and then pointed at my shins and said, ‘Just these’.” She had a brain injury and had also broken the top of her spine.

Further to that, she had broken part of her shoulder, her humerus on both sides and her elbow. She had also broken eight to 12 ribs, her pelvis was shattered and she had broken her knee and right femur.

She also had scarring all over her body. She said: "I don't remember specifically when I was told for the first time, but I kept having to ask my partner why I was in hospital.

"There were so many occasions where it must've felt to him like we were having the same conversation for the hundredth time, but I just couldn't compute anything. My partner wasn't there, so he couldn't give me many details, and neither could my parents, so the only people who truly knew what had gone on were the driver and potentially any witnesses.

"The facts are that I was left pretty much immobile following a crash that I had no memory of and that was caused by someone else's irresponsibility. How do you get your head around that?"

That driver was heading to a fast-food restaurant with some friends after a night out the night before. A breathalyser test showed he had 61 micrograms of alcohol per 100 millilitres of breath - well over the legal limit of 35.

Rachel said: "When I found out that I was in this situation due to a drunk driver, I just had this surge of heat rush over my body. It was a heat that stayed with me for a very long time, because I was so unbelievably angry.”

'I was so angry and in so much pain'

She went on: "For a while, it felt like me against the world. I'm not a spiritual or religious person at all, but it did make me think 'How could God, the universe or whatever there is out there cause this to happen to me?'

"But there I was, asking myself what I’d done to deserve it. That’s not something that you can come to terms with overnight. For a lot of 2022, I went into a really dark place because I was so angry and I was in so much pain.

“It ended up getting to the point where I really wish that I had died because I felt like life would be easier if I had. I was pushing my loved ones away, which left them feeling helpless and insignificant. And then that left me feeling so unbelievably confused as to why I was acting like that.

“I understand now that part of that was the impact of the brain injury. It affected my memory and my mood severely.

“And then when I was told that people thought I was going to die and when my partner expressed to me how he felt coming to see me in hospital whilst I was in the coma, it just really got to me. He just said that he was so scared. He came so close to losing me.

“In September 2022, I tried to commit suicide. Thankfully – and I mean that with every fibre of my being – I never succeeded. But it’s extraordinary to think that I went from being so close to losing my life in the car crash to then attempting to take it.

“In a way, I feel like I’ve survived twice. I suppose that’s the butterfly effect in practice – one person’s decision to drink-drive has had all of these unimaginable consequences.

“It’s affected so many things in my future. I was told that I probably won’t be able to give birth naturally because of the damage caused to my body.

“Not only has that man’s decision to drink-drive changed how I look, with all the scarring…it’s also eroded my autonomy and any plans that I might have had for the future and that hurts more than anything physically.”

Rachel, from Stoke-on-Trent, has nothing to say directly to the motorist who left her with so many injuries. Yet she has a message to all other road users.

She said: "Just be self-aware. Be aware of what you can handle and what you can deal with. And that’s not just from an alcohol or drugs perspective – it could be from an emotional point-of-view too.

“If you’re about to get behind the wheel of a car and there are any factors that could blur or obscure your ability to safely drive, just don’t do it. Ask yourself ‘am I in a responsible state to drive?’

“We hope that people will abide by the law, but a lot of that only deals with what happens once people have already acted irresponsibly. Speed cameras can’t pick people up before they’ve broken the speed limit. In the same way, a prison sentence can’t undo all of the trauma and years of recovery for the victims – if they survive, that is.

“That’s where the preventative measures have to come in, and I think a massive part of that begins with education. That’s exactly why I’m talking to you now, to tell you, first-hand, about the very real effects that drink-driving can have.

“The fact that I have survived should not, in any way, negate the seriousness of drink-driving. It’s still ruined my life and that of those around me and that will never change."

In July 2023, the drink-driver, who was 23 at the time of the crash, was jailed for 28 months. He was disqualified from driving for 38 months after pleaded guilty at Stafford Crown Court to causing serious injury by dangerous driving.

As for Rachel, her battle goes on. It is a fight that could go on for all of her life.

For practical, confidential suicide prevention help and advice please contact PAPYRUS HOPELINEUK on 0800 068 4141, text 07860 039967 or email
Coventry and Warwickshire local authorities and health services have developed to offer support and links to vital services for people who are seeking support for themselves or anyone who is worried about a loved one or someone they know.
Emotional well-being and mental health support for children and young people in Coventry and Warwickshire is available through Rise
Samaritans (116 123) operates a 24-hour service available every day of the year. If you prefer to write down how you’re feeling, or if you’re worried about being overheard on the phone, you can email Samaritans at

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