herald

Tuesday 15 October 2019

Crazed driver jailed for 14 years over crash that killed Jillian (20)

Jillian Thornton died in the crash
Jillian Thornton died in the crash

A man convicted of causing a road crash which claimed the life of a 20-year-old woman in Co Meath three years ago has been jailed for 14 years.

Earlier this year, following a 13-day trial, 45-year-old Michael Collins, of St Finian's Park, Drogheda, was found guilty of dangerous driving, causing the death of Jillian Thornton on May 27, 2016, at Waterside, Great Duleek, Co Meath.

Collins, who defended himself after sacking his legal team at the start of the trial, was also convicted on two charges of endangerment, 12 charges of dangerous driving and driving under the influence of an intoxicant on the same date.

Trim Circuit Court yesterday heard that the defendant was on his way to a music festival in Mullingar on the night of the crash, with the victim and a friend, Alannah Byrne, who survived the crash.

Jillian Thornton was killed when she was thrown from the back seat of the defendant's car which was split in two when it collided with another car near Ballymagarvey on the N2 following a 35-minute garda pursuit.

That began when Collins failed to stop for gardai after driving the wrong way on a roundabout at Waterunder, Drogheda, and then continuing through the town and east Meath before heading north on the N2 towards Slane and then turning back in the Ashbourne direction.

The court was shown CCTV footage of part of the pursuit in Drogheda.

Scream

The trial had heard recordings of 999 calls from the passengers in the car claiming the driver was going to crash unless gardai called off the pursuit. One of the calls made just before the crash ended in a scream.

The court heard garda evidence of Collins speeding on the wrong side of the road, being involved in near misses, driving head-on at garda vehicles, travelling without lights and weaving from side to side.

A garda witness said the defendant appeared to have been playing 'chicken' with other motorists.

Michael Collins
Michael Collins

Collins, who was found to have cannabis in his system on the night, later told gardai his "head had been melted" and claimed in court he had been in fear for his life at the time as someone had put a hit on him and he did not believe it was gardai who were following him.

He said he was scared of being shot and was being chased by would-be assassins.

He claimed that at one stage he was being followed by 10 garda cars, some of which had tried to ram him, and just before the crash his car was rammed into the other vehicle involved in the collision.

The court heard that technical investigations found no evidence to support this claim.

In victim impact statements read by the victim's sister Elaine, the court heard the family's whole world fell apart when Jillian was killed and they suffered ongoing nightmares and could no longer celebrate family occasions.

Restraint

They condemned the lack of remorse shown by Collins throughout his trial.

"He'll get a second chance at life, Jillian never will," said Elaine Thornton.

At the sentence hearing Judge Martina Baxter praised the restraint shown by the gardai on the night and expressed sympathy to the Thornton family on their immeasurable loss.

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