A father-of-three who caused a collision on the main Bangor to Belfast road which resulted in death of a 75-year old woman has been ordered to complete 220 hours community service.
Quin Long Guo was also banned from driving for a year after he admitted causing the death of great-grandmother Norma Diffley by careless driving.
The collision between 35-year old Guo, from Springfield Road in Bangor, and Mrs Diffley occurred on the A2 dual carriageway on a stretch of the road known as the ‘Devil’s Elbow.’
Downpatrick Crown Court, sitting in Belfast, heard that as Guo was driving to Bangor his Volkswagen Tiguan crossed onto the wrong side of the dual carriageway and into the Belfast-bound lane of the Suzuki jeep being driven by Mrs Diffley.
Mrs Diffley - a boutique owner from Groomsport - died at the scene.
The court heard Mrs Diffley, a Sunday school teacher and church warden, was a much loved and respected member of the community.
Today’s hearing was also told of the significant and lasting impact her death has had on the family circle - and in particular her two daughters and granddaughter, who were handed a letter written to them by Guo.
Passing sentence, Judge Brian Sherrard said: “I did not know Mrs Diffley but because of my involvement in this case, I have learned a tremendous amount about her.
“Everything I have read tells me that she was a lady who was generous of spirit and full of grace. She was also a lady who gave up much of her time in benefit of her local community.”
Handing the defendant the community service order, the Bangor man was told: “Mr Guo, by your careless driving, you have deprived our community of a cherished and valued member. I consider it appropriate to require you to put something back into our community in the hope of restoring something positive out of this dreadful event.
Prior to passing sentence, Judge Sherrard heard that while there were questions surrounding whether or not Mrs Diffley was wearing a seat-belt, it was “impossible for the prosecution to say” if she was or wasn’t.
Crown prosecutor Laura Ivers said the collision occurred close to Carney Hill shortly after 2pm on Monday January 4 last year on a stretch of road that is governed by a 50mph speed limit.
As Mrs Diffley was driving her jeep to Belfast, Guo’s car - which was being driven in the opposite direction towards Bangor - crossed the central white line and veered into her path.
The front of both cars collided, and as a result both vehicles came to rest in the Belfast-bound lane. Both cars sustained extensive damage, and despite an ambulance arriving prompting, Mrs Diffley died at the scene.
Two other road users reported seeing Guo’s car drifting across the white line and into the path of oncoming traffic travelling in the opposite direction, then hearing a loud bang.
Ms Ivers said that when the scene was examined by a forensics expert, it was his conclusion that speed was not an issue and that neither cars were defective in any way. The expert concluded the collision occurred “due to a period of inattention by the defendant, or a period of time he was not able to control his car.”
Ms Ivers told the court that Guo was spoken to at the scene, where he said he was driving to Bangor then “just bang, I don’t know what happened.” He was taken to hospital and treated for minor injuries, and was arrested the next day.
During the first police interview, a pre-prepared statement on his behalf said: “I don’t know how the accident occurred. I consider I was on the correct side of the road at all times.” He then gave a ‘no comment’ response to other questions.
The prosecutor said Guo has since pleaded guilty to a charge of causing death by careless driving on the grounds of a momentary lapse of attention which caused him to travel on the wrong side of the road.”
She also confirmed there were no aggravating features, such as excessive speed or using a mobile phone, adding Guo came before the court with no criminal record.
Mr Ivers concluded by saying that the guilty plea was welcomed by the Crown.
The court heard Guo moved to Ireland in 2003, was a man of good character and lives in Northern Ireland on temporary visa working in the hospitality industry.
Defence barrister Brian McCartney QC, representing Guo, described his client as a hard-working family man who was employed in a Chinese restaurant in Bangor.
Telling the court the collision was down to a “momentary lasp of attention”, Mr McCartney said there no elements of risk taking, speed or poor decision making.
The barrister spoke of the “deep impact” the fatal collision has had on Guo, adding: “He now suffers from nightmares and night sweats, and the accident continues to haunt him.”
Mr McCartney also highlighted Guo’s remorse and anguish - as was evident in the letter he wrote to Mrs Diffley’s family - concluding his client “is not someone who presents a danger to the public.”
In his sentencing remarks, Judge Sherrard paid tribute to Mrs Diffley as her grieving family sat in the public gallery. He praised the “well-known businesswoman” and spoke of the “very significant” impact her death has had on them.
Accepting it was “ambigious” whether or not the pensioner was wearing a seat-belt at the point of collision, the Judge said Guo’s guilty plea reflected an acknowlegdement of his responsibility for her death.
Judge Sherrard also read part of a letter sent to the court by Rev Duncan Pollock from Groomsports Parish Church, where Mrs Diffley was a Sunday school teacher and church warden.
Branding this letter as “moving”, Judge Sherrard said Rev Pollock spoke of Mrs Diffley’s contribution to both the church and the community and said she would be remembered for her kindness, generosity and being a “firm friend to many people.”
Rev Pollock’s letter also said: “Norma Diffley was an expectional woman, loved and respected by all those who came in to contact with her. Her life in and around Groomsport was marked by her thoughfulness and kindness to others, as well as personal grace and gentleness.”
Saying Mrs Diffley’s death was a consequence of a lapse in concentration and not a deliberate act, Judge Sherrard concluded: “I’m sure there are perhaps a few amongst us here today who have breathed a sigh of relief when we have lost concentration for a minute and narrowly avoided a collision.”