Belfast Telegraph

Killer driver who suffered blackouts jailed as judge questions why doctors didn't order her off the roads

BY PAUL HIGGINS

A judge in the case of a driver who killed a mother-of-two when she smashed into a car after blacking out said it was "quite astounding" no doctor had stopped her from driving.

Mary McLaughlin (47) was yesterday jailed for five months for causing the death of 27-year-old mother-of-two Rebecca McManus and injury of four others by dangerous driving.

She was also banned from driving for 10 years by Belfast Crown Court judge Gordon Kerr QC, who said he was giving "significant discount" for her medical condition.

But the judge added that given the driver's history of blackouts caused the fatal crash, he didn't think she could evade a prison sentence.

McLaughlin was handed a 15-month term, of which five months will be served in prison and the rest on supervised licence conditions.

The driver, from Dillons Avenue, Newtownabbey, was convicted in May of causing the death of Ms McManus by dangerous driving on October 7, 2010. The jury also found the mother-of-three guilty of causing grievous bodily injury to the four other people in the car.

During the week-long trial, the jury heard how McLaughlin had a blackout at the wheel of her Vauxhall Zafira as she exited the M5 in Newtownabbey and crashed into a Ford Focus driven by Karen Banks. Ms McManus, a rear-seat passenger, was killed instantly.

Witnesses described how McLaughlin was "slumped" behind the wheel with her eyes closed and "drooling".

It was the Crown case that despite being issued a three-year licence from the DVLNI, she "knew very well it was dangerous (for her to drive) and that she carried on regardless of that danger". McLaughlin herself gave tearful evidence on her own behalf that she "would never" have driven if she did not feel safe to do so.

She claimed that despite suffering from repeated blackouts since 2004 – a medical condition which resulted in her being retired from her finance job at the Northern Trust – she had come to know the signs of an attack.

Judge Kerr said that the fact no doctor had told her not to drive was "quite astounding".

Judge Kerr said the fact that McLaughlin drove while medically unfit, had killed one and injured four, made the offence all the worse. He added, however, that she had shown genuine remorse, had a clear record and a good working record.

He said passing sentence in such cases where the court is faced with a mature person with a clear record for punishment is "intrinsically difficult", but that no sentence would measure the worth of Ms McManus' life or the effects on the other victims.

BACKGROUND

Mary McLaughlin (47) has a history of blackouts. She had been medically retired from her job because of the blackouts but was issued with a licence and not told by any doctor not to drive.

She suffered a blackout while driving in October 2010 and crashed into another car killing rear-seat passenger Rebecca McManus, a mother-of-two.

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