A Belfast mother-of-three who drove on the wrong side of a busy road before causing a head-on collision began a nine-month jail term on Monday.
Briege O’Hara, 61, from Belfast’s Antrim Road, was driving over the legal limit and was on her way to an AA meeting when she caused grievous bodily injury by dangerous driving to the other motorist.
Belfast Crown Court heard O’Hara knew the man she injured and was “entirely remorseful” for what she had done.
Crown prosecutor Amanda Brady told the court that at 11.30am on August 27 last year, police attended the scene of a road traffic collision on the Antrim Road at its junction with Donegall Park Avenue.
When they arrived, officers observed O’Hara’s Fiat facing the direction of Carlisle Circus on the wrong side of the road, and a Citroen van in the outside lane in the direction of Newtownabbey.
It emerged that O’Hara had come around a bend on the wrong side of the road and that the van “didn’t have a chance” to move out of her way to avoid a collision.
Officers found O’Hara in an ambulance, and after noticing her speech was slurred, they carried out a breath test which indicated she was over the limit.
She was arrested before being taken to hospital, and an hour and a half after the collision, a blood sample was taken which revealed she was driving with excess alcohol.
O’Hara made the case that she couldn’t remember the collision but admitted drinking a glass of wine and taking 5mgs of Diazepam before leaving the house. She pleaded guilty to causing grievous bodily injury by dangerous driving and also driving with excess alcohol.
Mrs Brady told the court that a witness who was a passenger in a car on the Antrim Road just prior to the collision saw O’Hara’s Fiat crossing the white line on the road and driving on the wrong side on several occasions.
Mrs Brady said the witness “told her husband to stay back as she thought it (the Fiat) was going to crash”. The female passenger also saw the Fiat cross the wrong side of the road and mount a traffic island before crashing into the Citroen van.
The van’s driver, a man in his mid-60s who O’Hara knew, sustained a fractured breast bone and left hand in the collision and lost his job as a delivery driver as a result. He was treated in hospital for his injuries where he remained for a week.
Mrs Brady said: “He continues to suffer both physical pain and mental difficulties since the accident happened.”
The prosecutor also spoke of O’Hara’s “prolonged and persistent course of bad driving going down the Antrim Road prior to the crash”.
Defence barrister Paul Bacon said that while it was accepted the incident was “utterly disgraceful”, his client was “entirely remorseful”.
Telling the court the incident has had a “profound effect” on O’Hara, Mr Bacon said she spent 12 weeks in residential care for “alcohol addiction problems” almost immediately after causing the collision, and has abstained from alcohol since.
Mr Bacon also spoke of a “plethora of difficulties” which have blighted O’Hara’s life. Describing her as “an extremely emotionally fragile woman”, the barrister said she was on her way to attend an AA meeting when the collision occurred.
Belfast Recorder Judge David McFarland handed O’Hara an 18-month sentence. She will spend half in custody, with the remaining nine months spent on supervised licence when she is released from custody. O’Hara was also banned from driving for three years.