Belfast Telegraph

Young mum killed in 100mph car chase after drug deal row, jury told

Natasha Carruthers
Natasha Carruthers
Nathan Phair
The crash scene

By Michael Donnelly

A young woman died in a car crash after a high-speed chase in Co Fermanagh following a failed drug deal, a jury has been told.

Mother-of-one Natasha Carruthers was only 23 when she was crushed to death by her own car.

It was being driven by alleged drug dealer Nathan Phair during a 12-mile chase that reached speeds of up to 100mph along country roads on October 7, 2017.

Dungannon Crown Court heard yesterday that at the time Phair, nicknamed 'Panda', was trying to evade two men he had "swindled" in a failed drug deal the previous evening.

The blue Vauxhall Corsa car ended up wrapped around a tree on Lisnaskea Raod, on the outskirts of Derrylin.

Ms Carruthers was thrown from the car, which rolled over on top of her, and in addition to a fractured skull and bleeding on the brain, she suffered horrific injuries that meant she could not have survived.

Phair, from Castlebalfour Park, Lisnaskea, was also seriously injured.

He denies a total of nine charges, including causing Nathasha's death by dangerous driving, causing grievous bodily injury to another young woman in the back seat, as well as driving without insurance and or a driving licence.

The court heard that Phair may try to explain his driving by claiming he was in fear of serious injury from the driver of the chasing black BMW car, which had "bumped" and "nudged" the Corsa.

Prosecution QC David McDowell said the driver of the other car - Padraig Toher (28), from Bawnboy, Ballyconnell, Co Cavan - had pleaded guilty to Ms Carruthers' manslaughter, and with another man, Andrew Waters, has admitted involvement in the drug dealing with Phair.

Opening the prosecution case before the jury of 10 men and two women, the lawyer appealed to them not to allow the "shocking nature" of Ms Carruthers' death to "affect your judgment".

Mr McDowell said the apparent "motivation" for the high-speed chase between Letterbreen and Derrylin stemmed from a failed drug deal between Toher and Phair, and Waters, who initially "arranged for the two of them to do business".

The evening prior to the crash Phair allegedly pocketed the equivalent of €500 (£440) given to him by Toher for a quarter ounce of cocaine, and Toher went looking for him and his money.

Mr McDowell said that Phair "had cheated him - swindled Toher out of his money" and that later Phair texted from his hospital bed that "the rat (Waters) and that Padraig boy (Toher) rammed me... cause I stroked them (of) €500".

Trial Judge Neil Rafferty and the jury heard the horrific events of that night began in the village of Letterbreen when Toher, driving his BMW car, came across Phair and the women in the Corsa.

Armed with a metal bar, he approached the Corsa demanding his money. He struck the windscreen and smashed the driver's side window before Phair drove off at speed to Bellanaleck and then on to Derrylin in the direction of Lisnaskea.

Mr McDowell said that during the chase Toher's BMW struck the rear of the Corsa on at least three separate occasions, "bumping or nudging" the vehicle while Phair swerved onto the centre of the road to prevent the BMW overtaking.

The lawyer said that from CCTV footage taken at various points along the chase route, the court could conclude both vehicles were "plainly speeding".

The Corsa hit the tree on the opposite side of the road at between 60mph and 62mph. Its speed when it lost control on the road was calculated by a vehicle collision expert at between 66mph and 68mph.

However, experts estimated that the average speed over the route was "in the region of 75mph" save for "one instance, in excess of 80pmh and... as much as 100mph".

Just prior to the crash, said Mr McDowell, the Corsa was "straddling the middle of the road", as Toher's black BMW was attempting to overtake. Experts concluded, he added, that the Corsa possibly lost control when the BMW, which had hit it "on at least three separate occasions", finally made contact one last time, with its front nearside hitting the Corsa's rear offside.

"On any analysis the prosecution say it is plain that both cars were being driven dangerously during the course of the car chase and that each car caused the death of Natasha Carruthers," he said. Phair himself suffered a fractured skull among other injuries.

Mr McDowell said that when later interviewed in hospital, Phair claimed he had "panicked and took off" after Toher attacked the Corsa in Letterbreen, and was "going to the nearest police station he could think of, in Lisnaskea".

However, counsel told the jury they might want to consider that the police station in Lisnaskea, where he lived, was around 20 miles away, while Enniskillen police station was less than six miles away.

Mr McDowell said Phair indicated Toher "nudged" his car more than 20 times, and that he lost control when the BMW went to overtake him but instead hit the back right of the Corsa.

However, he said he "didn't know how fast he was going because he wasn't watching the speedometer".

The court also heard that when questioned about how he knew Toher and Waters, and of cheating them out of their money in a drug deal, Phair mostly gave "no comment" answers.

Later, as a local homeowner described the crash scene as "pretty gruesome", members of Ms Carruthers' family, sitting in the public gallery, appeared distressed and comforted one another.

The man said he had been in his home shortly before midnight when he heard a passing car, then "a loud bang".

He said he was joined by his wife and together they went to investigate, armed with a torch. His wife was to add that she found the scene "a bit distressing" and went and sat on a nearby wall. Her husband, who alerted the emergency services, said he found a car, its rear sitting on a hedge.

In the back seat was a woman screaming that her foot was trapped. In the front seat was a man slumped over the wheel.

He then found Ms Carruthers lying trapped under the car.

His emergency 999 call was also played to the court. In the call he asked for all "three emergency services" after telling the operator there was a "bad smash in Derrylin".

He said that "a car has hit a tree, there's a girl screaming, the car is in bits... there's a person trapped".

Police who arrived on the scene within 10 minutes of being alerted said Ms Carruthers was found trapped under the car, she was unconscious and appeared to have suffered "extensive trauma". However, given the position of the vehicle it was not possible to help her or provide first aid.

At hearing.

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