Belfast Telegraph

Fatal crash woman who showed 'genuine remorse' is handed 18-month driving ban

Nicola Evelyn Watson outside court
Nicola Evelyn Watson outside court

By Paul Higgins

A woman who killed a farmer in a crash was given an 18-month driving ban yesterday.

Judge Gordon Kerr QC also ordered 25-year-old Nicola Evelyn Watson to complete 120 hours of community service.

He told Newry Crown Court that while the punishment "may disappoint the victim's family", he was constrained by the sentencing guidelines for causing death by dangerous driving.

Judge Kerr added that having assessed the defendant as being "at the lower end of culpability", an immediate custodial sentence was 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 August 15, 2016.

When he opened the facts of the case last week, prosecuting QC Charles MacCreanor told the court 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 fatal accident happened.

Watson, who was in a Volkswagen Polo, was driving behind the victim's tractor.

She started to overtake him on a bend approaching a crossroads when Mr Lively turned right and veered into her path, after which the two vehicles collided.

The impact caused the tractor to topple over and fall on Mr Lively, trapping him underneath and causing fatal injuries.

According to a forensic expert, there were no road signs warning drivers of the approaching crossroads.

The indicators and the brake lights on the tractor "did not operate" when examined after the crash, said Mr MacCreanor.

At the scene, said the lawyer, Watson told another driver that Mr Lively had "turned across" her before the crash.

Asked by a police officer what had happened, she replied: "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 (if) that was him going right, or whether he changed his mind last minute.

"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 said: "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 s***, 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".

Mr MacCreanor told the court that speed was not an aggravating feature in the accident, with the forensic expert estimating that the defendant's car had been travelling at around 25mph in a 60mph zone and the tractor at 10 or 15mph.

The barrister added: "It appears to be a case where there are no aggravating factors that we rely on.

"The matter that we ask the court to consider is 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."

Defence QC Patrick Lyttle told the court the basis of his plea was that it was not a case for an immediate custodial sentence because of the lack of aggravating factors and the momentary inattention that caused the fatal accident.

Describing his client as a "decent, hard-working individual", Mr Lyttle said the defendant would never be back before the courts and that the crash would "live with her for the rest of her life".

In court yesterday, Judge Kerr said he had received victim impact statements from Mr Lively's widow and children and that each of them were "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".

Judge Kerr said the case called for "a high level of community service".

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