Woman given 120 hours community service after causing death of tractor driver

A woman who killed a farmer when she crashed into his tractor has been ordered to complete 120 hours community service.

Nicola Evelyn Watson
Nicola Evelyn Watson

As well as the CSO imposed on 25-year-old Nicola Evelyn Watson at Newry Crown Court, Judge Gordon Kerr QC also banned her from driving for 18 months.

He told the court that while the sentence “may disappoint the victim’s family, I’m constrained by the authorities” and the guidelines for causing death by careless driving.

Judge Kerr said that having assessed Watson’s case as being “at the lower end of culpability, an immediate custodial sentence is not necessary”.

The scene on the Bryansford Road in Hilltown after the accident in August 2016

At an earlier hearing Watson, from Patrick Street in Newry, pleaded guilty to causing the death of Patrick Gerard Lively by driving carelessly on the Bryansford Road in Hilltown on August 15 2016.

When he opened the facts of the case last week, prosecuting QC Charles MacCreanor described how Mr Lively, a 60-year-old married father of two, had just finished preparing a field for baling and was heading home when the accident happened.

Watson, driving a Volkswagen Polo car, had come up behind the old tractor and had started to overtake it on the bend approaching a cross roads when Mr Lively turned right, veering across her path and the two collided.

The impact caused the tractor to topple over and it fell on Mr Lively who was trapped beneath it having sustained injuries which “caused his rapid death”.

According to a forensic expert, there were no road signs warning drivers of the approaching cross roads and the indicators and the brake lights on the tractor “did not operate” when he examined it after the crash, said Mr MacCreanor.

At the scene, said the lawyer, Watson told another driver “he turned across me” and when asked what happened by a police sergeant, she told the officer: “I was coming behind him. We were both heading the same direction. He went to swoop left but I don’t know if he was going left or that was him going right or whether he changed his mind last minute and I didn’t have time to slow down and I hit him. I don’t know what point of the tractor I hit.”

During a phone conversation with her boss the day after the tragedy, Watson told her: “I’m stupid. There was a tractor in front of me and to me he was veering towards the left as if he was allowing me to overtake him. I didn’t think, I just pulled out and thought ‘oh s*** what have I done, I’m overtaking on a bend.’ I just stuck my boot down to get back in and all I remember is bang.”

Watson is reported to have told her boss she had thought the farmer “was going to tell me off for what I had done but when I got out I saw that the tractor was on top of him”.

In relation to potential aggravating features, Mr MacCreanor told the court speed was not one as the forensic expert said the car was travelling at around 25mph in the 60 zone and the tractor at 10-15, adding that “it appears to be a case where there are no aggravating factors that we rely on”.

Defence QC Patrick Lyttle told the court the basis of his plea was that “it’s not a case for an immediate custodial sentence” given the lack of aggravating factors and the momentary inattention that caused the tragic accident.

Describing her as a “decent, hard-working individual,” Mr Lyttle urged the judge that Watson “will never be back before the courts” and that the tragic death of the farmer “will live with her for the rest of her life”.

Describing Watson’s actions in overtaking as a “misinterpreted manoeuvre,” Judge Kerr added that while there were no aggravating features, there were numerous mitigating factors including her guilty plea, clear record and “genuine remorse for responsibility for this tragic death”.

Taking all matters into account, Judge Kerr said the case called for “a high level of community service”.