Two speeding drivers sentenced for causing death of young mum Natasha Carruthers
Two drivers involved in a crash that killed Fermanagh mum Natasha Carruthers in 2017 were sentenced to a total of 23 years on Friday.
Cavan man Padraig Toher admitted 23-year-old Natasha’s manslaughter, and her boyfriend, Nathan Charles Phair was convicted of causing her death by dangerous driving.
Judge Neil Rafferty QC told them that they will each serve half of their sentences in prison followed by a similar period under supervised licence.
The Dungannon Crown Court judge, sitting in Belfast, told the pair they both “contributed to the untimely and tragic death of Natasha,” which had had a devastating affect on her family who spoke eloquently of their loss.
Judge Raffery added: “To drive at speeds and in the manner which you did on public roads displayed a deliberate, outrageous and wanton callous disregard for the safety of the public and those occupants of either car.
“That it extended over a prolonged period of approx 12.6miles simply underscores the persistence of your conduct.”
“And what lay behind this behaviour?,” asked Judge Rafferty, adding: “You Phair had swindled Toher in a drug deal. And that you Toher indulged your criminal desire to recover your drug money.
“The bringing of criminal grievances unto the public street to the danger of all is a significant factor in this case which in my view must attract significant deterrent sentences.”
Toher from Bawnnoy, Ballyconnell, who admitted making “deliberate contact”, ramming his BMW numerous times into the back of the Vauxhall, was sentenced to 12 years, six in custody, six on licence, together with a 10-year driving ban.
Phair, nicknamed ‘Panda’, a self-confessed unlicenced and uninsured driver from Castlebalfour Park, Lisnaskea, who has already lodge an appeal against his conviction, was sentenced to 11 years, five and a half in prison, five and a half on licence. However, his driving period will be one of 15 years.
Natasha died instantly when thrown through the windscreen of her blue Coras car, driven by Phair, after it struck a tree at over 60mph on the outskirts of the Fermanagh village of Derrylin on October 7, 2017.
At the time 23-year-old Phair was trying to evade the black BMW of 29-year-old Toher, whom he’d “stroked” the previous evening by making off with £440 of his money, without supplying him cocaine, as he had in the past.
Toher had gone looking for Phair with two others, coming across him in a carpark in the village of Letterbreen, sitting behind the wheel of Natasha’s Corsa. She was in the passenger seat, while in the rear was another girl, their friend.
The Cavan man, armed with a metal bar confronted Phair, demanding his drug money back, first smashing the driver’s window, before whacking the windscreen. Phair claimed that frightened for his life, and in a panic, he speed off leaving behind a fuming Toher.
Throughout his trial Phair, who accepted no responsibility for the tragic death of his girlfriend, maintained that his objective was to get back to his home town to contact the PSNI. However, as prosecution counsel, David McDowell QC, pointed out, the nearest police station was in Enniskillen, six miles away, and not in Lisnaskea, over 20 miles away.
Their race along the dark country roads was caught at times on CCTV cameras. Motoring experts estimated that they were travelling at an average speed of 75mph. However, when caught on security cameras going through Derrylin, their speed had climbed to over 100mph.
Both cars were seen to straddle the middle of the road, with Toher’s car making contact with the Corsa on several occasions. Phair said he was attempting to stop the BMW from overtaking him. Just seconds later, driving along a straight section of road, he lost control.
Toher readily admitted his guilt, coming back over the border to hand himself in after spending two nights’ sleeping rough in his car, before eventually seeking psychiatric help at Cavan Hospital.
His defence QC Arthur Harvey had said Toher recognised from the outset his “due day of punishment would come” and that his drug meddling had “brought nothing but distress and the heartbreaking consequences far beyond any intention”.
Phair’s guilt resulted from his conviction after two trials, one aborted for legal reasons, during which he maintained he was “not responsible” for causing Natasha’s death, claiming Toher’s car repeatedly nudged his as he attempted to overtake him just prior to the horrific smash.
His QC, Brian Macartney said he had ”expressed genuine and spontaneous remorse” at his trial, but while the eventual jury guilty “verdict is respected, it is not accepted”.
Mr Macartney said the case was “always about who caused the death of Natasha Carruthers. It has always been accepted my client never set out to harm, injure or kill anyone”.
In addition to their main sentences, the pair were each given concurrent sentences for their other offences arising out of the death of Natasha, who only got to celebrate one birthday with her daughter Lilly Rose.