Natasha Carruthers car chase death not my fault, accused man sobs
Driver charged over fatal crash weeps as he begins to give evidence at trial
The man accused of causing the death of Natasha Carruthers by dangerous driving after an alleged failed drug deal has taken the stand to give evidence on his own behalf.
During questioning, the hearing at Dungannon Crown Court had to be suspended for a time when Nathan Phair, who described Natasha as his girlfriend, wept and requested a break.
The prosecution later asked if the tears were for Natasha or himself. Although he claimed to care about Natasha, Phair was adamant he bears "no responsibility for her death".
The 23-year-old from Castlebalfour Park, Lisnaskea was driving Ms Carruthers' Vauxhall Corsa, in which she was the front passenger, while being pursued by Padraig Toher in a BMW.
While Phair has accepted having no licence or insurance, he denies causing Natasha's death and grievous injury to a second passenger, Sarah Gault, on October 7, 2017 following a high-speed chase, allegedly after a failed drug deal. He also denies drugs charges.
After a 12-mile chase, during which speeds at times reached 100mph, the Corsa lost control, spun clockwise and struck a tree on the passenger side.
Ms Carruthers was flung onto the road, sustaining severe injuries which caused her death.
Toher (28), from Co Cavan, has admitted manslaughter as his BMW made "deliberate contact" causing death and is not on trial.
Andrew Waters, frequently referred to in court by his nickname 'The Rat' and who gave evidence against Phair, admits to being concerned in supplying and offering to supply cocaine.
Now in the fourth week of trial, Phair took the witness stand and was taken through evidence by his barrister.
He accepted being part of a group of young people who were taking Xanax and had taken the drug since he was 18.
Phair said it relaxed him as he had "high tolerance problems".
He recounted being approached by Waters twice to get £100 of cocaine for Toher, although there was some equivocation on whether he knew it was cocaine because "it came in a bag". Phair confirmed on request he contacted "a man" who had drugs, collected and handed them over to Toher.
A request was then made for more cocaine. This was to cost £440 which was given upfront to Phair. He contacted "the man" from whom the drugs were previously purchased, but he had stopped selling.
Phair said he and Natasha "decided to keep the money".
The defence inquired: "Were you aware you were involved with dangerous men?"
Phair replied: "I never knew that at the time."
Moving to the night of the collision, Phair described parking the Corsa in Letterbreen with Natasha in the front seat and Sarah Gault in the rear.
He said: "The BMW pulled in behind me. Toher got out and struck the windscreen with an iron bar. He looked pretty angry. He wasn't happy, I took off. I was shocked and panicked, I was really just trying to escape. Everybody in the car was panicking.
"I was heading through Derrylin. Then I decided to go to Lisnaskea to where I live and where the police station is. It was uphill and the Corsa is not a powerful car.
"He [Toher] came right up behind me. It looked like he was going to go past me. He tapped me again and it just happened so quick. I was into the tree."
Phair stated at this point he had "no control over the car". He recalled: "My ears were ringing and everything was black. I heard a car drive off. I heard Sarah Gault screaming."
Phair described his own multiple injuries and suffering significantly. He said: "I'd be depressed every now and again. I think about Natasha every day."
At this, Phair broke down in tears and the court was suspended for a time.
On return, he accepted committing offences seven weeks after the fatal collision, when he stole a jeep and drove it over 10 miles in convoy with another car. The owner of the jeep gave chase.
Asked why this happened, Phair said he was out with a friend and "was taking medication and MDMA (ecstasy) and tramadol".
He added: "My head was wrecked. I was at the scene of the crash that morning and it was my birthday that day. My friend was driving and we stopped because I needed to go to the toilet. The jeep was at the side of the road. I saw the keys, jumped in and drove off."
On being chased and stopped by the owner, Phair said: "He pulled me out and gave me a beating. I had a swollen jaw and a black eye."
Asked if he told the owner he was on pills and just out of hospital, Phair replied: "I could have done." He could give no explanation on why he stole the jeep other than to say "stupid, just".
Prosecution counsel David McDowell QC began his cross-examination asking Phair if he was upset at Natasha's death.
"I get depressed now and then. I'd lost my girlfriend", he replied
Mr McDowell asked: "Did you feel responsible?" Phair said: "No, not for her death."
The prosecution pressed: "She was in a car driven by you. Did you think about her while you were in hospital?"
Phair replied: "When I found out she was dead, yeah."
Matters moved to a Facebook message Phair sent from his hospital bed, to a friend who appeared to be mocking him.
In this, Phair said: "I'll get a serious claim out of this."
The recipient asked: "How did you crash her on that road? I seen the tree."
Mr McDowell showed the exchange of messages to Phair and asked him to read aloud his response to the jury. Phair read the line: "I'll be out in four weeks and be on DLA." He then swiftly added: "I didn't know Natasha was dead at that time."
The prosecution asked: "Did you care?" Phair said: "Of course. I was sedated. I was on morphine and stuff."
Referring back to Phair breaking down in the witness box, Mr McDowell inquired: "Were those tears for Natasha or yourself?"
He replied: "Natasha."
The prosecution moved on to the incident in the weeks after the fatal collision asking what medication Phair had taken which "left you out of your head".
The reply was "painkillers" but Mr McDowell reminded Phair of ecstasy being found in his bloodstream, which he accepted, describing it as "an upper" which he had taken before.
He also confirmed taking tramadol, describing it as a painkiller, but accepted it had not been prescribed to him.
The trial continues.