Lenience plea for death driver who had been ‘showing off car’

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A Co Antrim man has been remanded in custody to be sentenced next week after he admitted causing the death of a nurse in a two car collision.

Neil McKee, 26, of Castleburn Road in Carrickfergus, pleaded guilty to causing the death by dangerous driving of Heather Steele and also having no insurance.

Belfast Crown Court heard McKee was driving his black Seat Leon car when it collided with Ms Steele’s Suzuki Ignis car around 8pm on the main Carrickfergus-to-Belfast road at its junction with the Castlerocklands Road on August 27, 2014.

A prosecution lawyer said the defendant was driving at a “grossly excessive speed” on the 40 mph main arterial route to Belfast when he struck car being being driven the Royal Victoria Hospital cardiac nurse.

Judge Gordon Kerr QC was told that at the time of the collision the “weather was fine and the road was in a good state of repair and was busy with other traffic”.

Emergency crews who arrived at the scene found Ms Steele (53) trapped within her Suzuki vehicle which was found on the Carrickfergus-bound lane facing towards Carrick while McKee’s Seat Leon car had come to a halt on the Belfast bound lane.

The prosecution lawyer said that “a severe impact had occurred as a result of the manner of the accused’s driving” on the single lane carriageway which the defendant admitted at police interview he was “familiar with”.

The court heard that that the vehicles were later recovered from the scene and on examination McKee’s Leon car had been modified “which led to the insurance not being valid”.

A number of witnessess who were travelling on the road gave statements to police about the lead up to the collison.

The court was told that a male driver said he was driving at around 30 mph when the black Seat Leon “passed him at speed”.

A second witness told police: “I can honestly say that the speed of this car shocked me. It was madness”.

A female driver said she heard a loud noise coming from the exhaust of the Seat Leon and said it was travelling at a speed “faster than a police car with sirens”.

Another male witness described that the Leon car “continuing to acclerate past him”, adding: “It was really flying”.

The prosecutor said that although the witness statements were “subjective’’, he added that they gave the court an indication that McKee was travelling at a “grossly excessive speed”.

Judge Kerr QC was told that at police interview, McKee said he was “unsure” what speed he was travelling at the time of the collision.

The court heard that a Victim Impact Report prepared for the hearing was a “painful reminder of the loss and suffering” felt by Ms Steele’s family and friends.

The lawyer added that McKee had a relevant criminal record after receiving a fixed penalty notice in 2011 for driving at 67 mph in a 40 mph zone.

He said that the aggravating features in the case was the “grossly excessive speed’’ and that McKee had no valid insurance in force at the time.

Neil Rafferty QC, defending, told the court: “These are by there very nature tragic cases. I just want to place on record that anything I say by way of mitigation on behalf of the defendant is not meant to cause offence or hurt on the Steele family who have suffered a great loss.

“It is clear from the Victim Impact Report what a very fine and loving person Heather Steele was.

“I can also tell the court of the genuine remorse that the defendant has lived with from the moment of this accident.

“From the papers the defendant is described by some of the witnesses as ‘screaming’ and bereft in the aftermath that he had killed someone after this accident.”

Mr Rafferty QC said that fatal collision happened a week before McKee was due to sit a medical and pursue a career in the RAF.

“He struggles to live with the fact that he has caused the death of a fine woman by showing off his car which was his pride and joy.

“He struggles very deeply to come to terms with the hurt he has caused the Steele family.

“It is a tragic case. One family has been left bereaved and his family have been left bereft by what he did. I ask Your Honour to deal with him as leniently as possible.”

Remanding McKee into custody, Judge Kerr QC said he wanted to consider a number of documents handed into court and would pass sentence next Tuesday, May 24.