A woman who, impaired by a cocktail of cocaine and prescribed medication, left a Co Armagh couple with significant physical and psychological trauma following a horrific head-on collision outside Portadown train station has been jailed.
Hollie Coleman, with an address in Cloneen, Dungannon, appeared in the dock at Craigavon Crown Court on Wednesday after pleading guilty to two counts of causing grievous bodily injury by dangerous driving.
The 29-year-old was also sentenced for driving while disqualified, driving when unfit through drink or drugs, having no insurance, and aggravated taking and causing damage to a vehicle.
The court heard that on Saturday, September 18, at around 10am, one woman – who gave a witness statement – said she was doing her shopping at Asda in Portadown when “I saw a woman in the car with the music playing very loud”.
The woman – Coleman – was “slumped over the wheel and appeared to be asleep which was strange”.
She added: “I went into Asda and did my shopping for approximately 30 minutes. I went back to the car park and the lady was still slumped over the wheel asleep. I opened the door of the car to see if the lady was okay but she wouldn’t wake up. Another lady approached to help. We eventually woke the woman up and she got irate with us saying she needed to go to Asda. We said she was but she said she wasn’t and drove off.”
At this point one of the women phoned the police but the warning was too late to “avoid the consequences of the defendant’s actions”, said His Honour Judge Patrick Lynch KC.
What happened subsequently was described by the victims in this case – a husband and wife travelling along the Northway towards Craigavon that morning.
The husband stated: “[We were] passing Portadown train station and a silver colour vehicle veered across the central white lines into my lane and crashed head on into my vehicle. It happened so quickly I had no time to react or to avoid it. My vehicle spun round and was facing in the opposite direction.”
Another witness, who was also driving on the road at that time, was sitting in the driver’s seat of his vehicle at the bus stop outside the train station, facing the direction of Lurgan.
He said: “I looked in front of me and saw a silver Audi driving towards me on the wrong side of the road. The driver was a female with brown hair; [the car] skimmed the side of my vehicle before colliding with the red Corsa.”
This witness was not injured but was in a state of shock.
The couple in the Corsa sustained significant physical injuries, as well as the psychological trauma.
The male suffered a fractured sternum which meant he “couldn’t hug my nieces and nephews”. He had to have his bed moved downstairs and he is now anxious about getting into a a car. He has recurring nightmares. Both he and his wife have suffered financial hardship having had to take six months off work – his wife longer.
She suffered a broken leg, elbow, wrist and hand – all on her left side.
In a victim impact statement she thought “we were going to be killed; my immediate thoughts were with my children at home”.
Judge Lynch outlined how Coleman had taken cocaine the night before the incident and that a “cocktail of cocaine and prescribed medication impaired her decision making” the next morning.
He added: “Despite being a disqualified driver she made a premeditated decision to take her partner’s mother’s motor vehicle and drove it to Asda in Portadown. She remembers leaving Asda with her purchased items but her next memory was waking up when the RTC had occurred. She was horrified when she realised she caused the injuries to the other people.”
Judge Lynch referenced a pre-sentence report which alluded to the fact that Coleman had a son who had died from a cot death seven years ago.
He continued: “His tragic death has had a significant effect upon her mental health, alcohol use and subsequent offending behaviour. Her criminal record started seven years ago in 2016, coinciding with her baby’s death.”
He read that “after her son died, her world fell apart”, but concluded that “residual trauma is not an excuse for her behaviour”.
Coleman was handed a 40-month prison sentence, with half of the term to be spent on licence, the other half in custody.
She was also disqualified from driving for three years.