A driver who suffered from repeated blackouts killed a young woman by ploughing into the side of another car — despite knowing she should not have been behind the wheel, a court has been told.
Mary McLaughlin (47) was seen slumped at the wheel, head bowed and her eyes apparently closed in the moments before the crash in which Rebecca McManus (26) died, it was claimed.
Belfast Crown Court was told that after the crash Ms McLaughlin asked another witness: “Have I killed someone?”, and said she “must have taken a blackout”.
Rebecca and classmates from the nearby Northern Regional College — Angelo Fusco, Michelle Holmes and Gillian Jackson — had been on their way to McDonald’s for lunch on October 7, 2010.
They were the passengers in a Ford Focus driven by Karen Banks when the collision occurred at Hazelbank roundabout, Newtownabbey.
Prosecuting QC Ciaran Murphy said it appeared that she had suffered a blackout on the M5. Her Vauxhall Zafira did not stop at the roundabout and instead crashed into the rear passenger-side of the car where Ms McManus was sitting. Ms Banks and three others were seriously hurt, but Rebecca died at the scene.
Ms McLaughlin, from Dillons Avenue, Newtownabbey, denies one count of causing death by dangerous driving and four further charges of causing grievous bodily injury by dangerous driving.
Mr Murphy told the jury that they would hear evidence of a medical nature about Ms McLaughlin suffering repeated blackouts. It would be for them to decide whether it was dangerous for her to be driving, he said.
The lawyer said Ms McLaughlin “knew very well it was dangerous (to drive) and that she carried on regardless of that danger”.
He told the jury they would hear evidence from a witness who saw her just before the crash “slumped” at the wheel of her car, head bowed with her eyes closed.
The jury heard Ms McManus died as a result of injuries to her chest and abdominal regions, while the other passengers suffered serious injuries.
Ms McLaughlin was interviewed several times by police and she agreed she had been in the fast lane of the M5 travelling at 60-65mph when she felt symptoms of an oncoming blackout and tried to get to the hard shoulder. Asked if she’d ever had a blackout without warning before, she told police “no, never”.
But Mr Murphy told the jury that investigations into her medical history revealed documentation from medical professionals and former colleagues that she suffered numerous blackouts “without warning”.
The trial continues.