Community service for woman involved in fatal tractor crash
Crash 'will live with her for the rest of her life,' court hears
A woman who killed a farmer when she crashed into his tractor was ordered to complete 120 hours community service.
As well as the community service imposed on 25-year-old Nicola Evelyn Watson at Newry Crown Court, Judge Gordon Kerr QC also banned the killer driver for 18 months.
He told the court that while the sentence “may disappoint the victim’s family, I’m constrained by the authorities” and the guidelines for causing death by careless driving.
Judge Kerr said that having assessed Watson’s case as being “at the lower end of culpability, an immediate custodial sentence is not necessary".
At an earlier hearing Watson, from Patrick Street in Newry, pleaded guilty to causing the death of Patrick Gerard Lively by driving carelessly on the Bryansford Road in Hilltown on 15 August 2016.
When he opened the facts of the case last week, prosecuting QC Charles MacCreanor described how Mr Lively, a 60-year-old married father of two, had just finished preparing a field for baling and was heading home for his tea when the accident happened.
Watson, driving a Volkswagen Polo car, had come up behind the old tractor and had started to overtake it on the bend approaching a cross roads when Mr Lively turned right, veering across her path and the two collided.
The impact caused the tractor to topple over and it fell on Mr Lively who was trapped beneath it having sustained injuries which “caused his rapid death".
According to a forensic expert, there were no road signs warning drivers of the approaching cross roads and the indicators and the brake lights on the tractor “did not operate” when he examined it after the crash, said Mr MacCreanor.
At the scene, said the lawyer, Watson told another driver “he turned across me” and when asked what happened by a police sergeant, she told the officer: “I was coming behind him. We were both heading the same direction. He went to swoop left but I don’t know if he was going left or that was him going right or whether he changed his mind last minute and I didn’t have time to slow down and I hit him.
"I don’t know what point of the tractor I hit.“
During a phone conversation with her boss the day after the tragedy, Watson told her “I’m stupid. There was a tractor in front of me and to me he was veering towards the left as if he was allowing me to overtake him.
"I didn’t think, I just pulled out and thought ‘oh sh*t what have I done, I’m overtaking on a bend'.I just stuck my boot down to get back in and all I remember is bang.”
Watson is reported to have told her boss she had thought the farmer “was going to tell me off for what I had done but when I got out I saw that the tractor was on top of him".
In relation to potential aggravating features, Mr MacCreanor told the court speed was not one as the forensic expert opined the car was travelling at around 25 mph in the 60 zone and the tractor at 10-15, adding that “it appears to be a case where there are no aggravating factors that we rely on".
“The matters that we ask the court to consider is that the carelessness of overtaking at a crossroads when approaching a blind bend with a slow moving vehicle which on her own account, she wasn’t sure which way that vehicle was going,” said the senior lawyer.
Defence QC Patrick Lyttle told the court the basis of his plea was that “it’s not a case for an immediate custodial sentence” given the lack of aggravating factors and the momentary inattention that caused the tragic accident.
Describing her as a “decent, hard-working individual,” Mr Lyttle urged the judge that Watson “will never be back before the courts” and that the tragic death of the farmer she killed “will live with her for the rest of her life".
In court on Wednesday, Judge Kerr said he had received victim impact statements from Mr Lively’s widow and children and that each of them “are testament to the loving relationship and strong sense of loss, despite the passage of time".
Describing Watson’s actions in overtaking as a “misinterpreted manoeuvre,” the judge added that while there were no aggravating features, there were numerous mitigating factors including her guilty plea, clear record and “genuine remorse for responsibility for this tragic death".
Taking all matters into account, Judge Kerr said the case called for “a high-level of community service".
Belfast Telegraph Digital