Driver who appeared to be ‘playing chicken’ before fatal crash convicted

Sister of Co Meath crash victim said ‘if love was money Jillian would be a millionaire’

Jillian Thornton’s family outside Trim Circuit Court. From left to right: Jillian’s sister Elaine, father Derek, mother Lorraine and brother Derrick. Photograph: Ciara Wilkinson

Jillian Thornton’s family outside Trim Circuit Court. From left to right: Jillian’s sister Elaine, father Derek, mother Lorraine and brother Derrick. Photograph: Ciara Wilkinson

 

A driver involved in a Co Meath collision three years ago was convicted at Trim Circuit Court on Friday of causing the death of a passenger in his car.

Following a 13-day trial, Michael Collins (44) of St Finian’s Park Drogheda was found guilty of dangerous driving causing the death of Jillian Thornton (20) on May 27th, 2016, at Waterside Great, Duleek.

The accused man, who sacked his legal team at the start of the trial and defended himself, was also convicted of two charges of endangerment, 12 charges of dangerous driving and driving under the influence of an intoxicant on the same date. Collins had denied all the charges.

Michael Collins was found guilty of dangerous driving causing the death of Jillian Thornton (pictured). Photograph: Ciara Wilkinson
Michael Collins was found guilty of dangerous driving causing the death of Jillian Thornton (pictured). Photograph: Ciara Wilkinson

The victim was the back seat passenger in the defendant’s Mitsubishi Colt which collided with a Passat near Ballymagarvey on the N2 following a 25-minute Garda pursuit.

A number of gardaí and other witnesses told the court the pursuit began when the defendant failed to stop for gardaí after driving the wrong way on a roundabout at Waterunder, Drogheda and continued through the town and east Meath before he headed north on the N2 towards Slane and then turned back in the Ashbourne direction before the fatal crash.

One motorist told the court the pursuit reminded him of the OJ Simpson chase with the Garda cars following at a distance.

The court was shown CCTV of part of the pursuit in Drogheda and heard recordings of 999 calls from the two passengers in the car claiming the driver was going to crash unless gardai called off the pursuit. One of the calls made shortly before the crash ended in a scream.

Michael Collins was found guilty of dangerous driving causing the death of 20-year-old Jillian Thornton. Photograph: Ciara Wilkinson
Michael Collins was found guilty of dangerous driving causing the death of 20-year-old Jillian Thornton. Photograph: Ciara Wilkinson

The court heard garda evidence of the defendant’s car speeding on the wrong side of the road forcing other cars out of the way, being involved in near misses, driving head on at Garda vehicles. A garda said the defendant appeared to be playing chicken with the other motorists.

An inspector with the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission who investigated the incident told the court he concluded the gardaí had no involvement in the crash.

The defendant told gardaí he had smoked some cannabis earlier on the day of the crash and had been giving the two women a lift to a music festival in Mullingar.

He claimed he was in fear for his life at the time as someone had put a hit on him and he did not believe it was gardaí who were following him.

After deliberating for 2½ hours the jury of five men and seven women returned guilty verdicts on all 16 charges.

Following the verdict Judge Martina Baxter invited Jillian Thornton’s sister Elaine to tell the jury about the victim. Ms Thornton said her sister had been a kind loving girl who had a smile that lit up a room and saw the good in everyone.

“My mother always said if love was money Jillian would be a millionaire,” he said.

The judge remanded Collins in custody to May 21st for sentence.