Belfast Telegraph

Driver banned but avoids jail over M1 crash that killed woman (80)

By Paul Higgins

A woman who killed a pensioner and seriously injured two people when she caused a motorway crash has avoided jail.

Melissa Nugent's eight-month prison sentence was suspended at Craigavon Crown Court yesterday.

Judge Patrick Lynch QC told the 33-year-old that while the offences she had been convicted of crossed the custody threshold, he was suspending the sentence in light of her genuine remorse, clear criminal record and excellent work record.

Nugent, from Clonmore Road in Dungannon, Co Tyrone, had previously been convicted of causing the death of Maureen Buchanan and grievous bodily injury to Margaret Ball and Isabella Heaney by driving carelessly on the M1.

Outside court yesterday, she declined to comment.

Mrs Buchanan's son, Peter, said that while the death was devastating and "still hurts", he was happy with the outcome and the family now had "time to move on".

Praising the police and prosecution for the support they had given, Mr Buchanan added that his mother "was the centre of the family and just one of the kindest people you would ever come across".

"At 80 years old, you don't expect to hear the news that she has been killed, but she lived a good life," he said.

Asked whether he thought that the sentence was appropriate, Mrs Buchanan's grieving son said that was a matter for the judge.

"It wasn't about anyone going to prison or not," he explained. "We were here for justice, to see that the appropriate procedures were carried out.

Nugent had been working as a full-time counsellor for the Southern Health Trust before the crash.

However, after being convicted, she was dismissed.

The court heard how, on the evening of Friday, April 8, 2016, the defendant was about a mile from the Lurgan turn-off on the country-bound side of the M1 when the car in front of her performed an emergency stop.

Nugent was in the outside lane and attempted to brake, but she did not manage to stop in time and her vehicle crashed into the car in front.

That impact, said the judge, caused Nugent's car to slide into the inside lane, and it was there that she crashed into a second car, causing it to "mount the kerb and topple over onto its right side".

Inside that car were 80-year-old Mrs Buchanan and her two friends.

The judge said Mrs Buchanan died almost instantly from her injuries.

Her friends sustained serious injuries "that are debilitating in the extreme, Judge Lynch added, before stressing: "Their injuries have had a profound effect on their lives. I think it's reasonable to suppose that they will never fully recover from either the physical injuries or psychiatric injuries that were sustained as a consequence of the defendant's driving."

Prosecuting lawyer Nicola Aurelia previously argued that the case fell in the intermediate category of careless driving.

Defence counsel Des Fahy contended his client was guilty of a "momentary lapse of reason", shown by the fact that she braked but failed to stop completely.

Judge Lynch said Nugent's driving had fallen "below the standard expected of a careful and competent driver".

Against the "catastrophic" consequences of her driving, he said there were a number of strong mitigating factors including her charitable and volunteer work and clear record.

In addition to the suspended jail term, Nugent was also banned from driving for a year.

Belfast Telegraph

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