'If love was money Jillian would have been a millionaire' - jury told

Story by Gavan Becton

Sunday, 31st March, 2019 5:58pm

'If love was money Jillian would have been a millionaire' - jury told

Jillian Thornton and (right) Michael Collins

A jury at Trim Circuit Court which convicted a man of dangerous driving causing the death of a woman was told that if love was money the victim would have been a millionaire.

Following a 13 day trial 44 year old Michael Collins with an address at St Finian's Park Drogheda was found guilty of dangerous driving causing the death of 20-year-old Jillian Thornton on 27th May 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 of two charges of endangerment, 12 charges of dangerous driving and a charge of driving under the influence of an intoxicant on the same date.

The defendant had denied all the charges.

The victim was the back seat passenger in a Mitsubishi Colt driven by the defendant involved in a collision with a VW Passat near Ballymagarvey on the N2 following a 25 minute garda pursuit.

Tragic...Jillian Thornton was just 20-years-old when she was killed in horror smash. PHOTO: Ciara Wilkinson

A number of garda and other witnesses told prosecuting counsel Carl Hanahoe BL the pursuit began when the defendant failed to stop for gardai after driving the wrong way on a roundabout at Waterunder north of 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.

The court was shown CCTV of part of the pursuit in Drogheda and 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 shortly before the crash ended in a scream

The court was also viewed a video clip labelled 'Hgh speed chase' taken from one of  mobile phones used by one of the passengers.

After the first 999 call gardai following the Colt said they had dropped back in a bid to defuse the situation

The court heard garda evidence of the defendant's car 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 right to left.

One motorist said he saw a number of garda vehicles following another car. 

The scene of the crash in which Jillian Thornton died. PHOTO: Seamus Farrelly

'The O.J Simpson chase came to mind - they were following rather than chasing', he said.

A garda said the defendant appeared to be playing chicken with a number of other vehicles shortly before the collision which occurred over the brow of a hill and out of view of the gardai.   

The defendant was found in the driver's seat while a young woman was in the front passenger seat of the Colt which had been split in two when it collided with the Passat

The driver of the Passat said the other car had come sliding towards him without any lights on before the collision.

Ms Thornton who had been thrown from the back of the Colt was found lying on the opposite side of the road but never responded to attempts to revive her and was later pronounced dead.  

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

A forensic collision investigator told the court the defendant's car had been out of control when it crashed sideways into the Passat while a garda engineer said the damage to the Colt did not show any evidence of it being rearended.

The court also heard that 19 days before the pursuit gardai in Drogheda alerted Michael Collins that they had received a confidential call warning there was a hit on his life.

The defendant told gardai 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.

Forensic scientist Karen Hayes said a blood sample taken from the defendant after the crash returned a zero result for alcohol but a second test showed a presence of cannabis.

The scientist said that cannabis was a depressant which in a motorist could slow their reaction time, cause them to deviate from lane to lane, misinterpret time and distance and make multitasking more difficult.

Guilty...Michael Collins. PHOTO: Ciara Wilkinson

In his evidence to the court the defendant rejected the scientists assertions.

'Ive been smoking cannabis for 30 years and it doesnt have much effect on me', he said.

He said the chase began not at Waterunder but in the Moneymore estate when he saw he was being followed by a blue Mondeo and a BMW jeep.

He denied garda evidence that it involved a marked garda Audi A7.

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 gardai who were following him.

In cross-examination he agreed with Mr Hanahoe that although he was scared of being shot and was being chased by would assassins he had driven past the garda station in Drogheda.

The defendant claimed he had slowed down on a number of occasions and urged Ms Thornton and the other passenger Alannah Byrne to get out of his car but they had refused.

He repeatedly blamed gardai for the crash and said that at one stage during the pursuit he was being followed by ten garda cars some of which had tried to ram him.

He said that just before the crash he saw no blue lights behind him but noticed a silver Mondeo and a dark Mondeo sticking out of driveways on either side of the road.

He claimed he looked in his rear view mirror and saw a car coming really fast.

'I was hit from behind. The car was spinning round and was hit on the side by the other car', he said.

Meanwhile Alannah Byrne's mother  Patricia Byrne who was called to give evidence by the defendant told the court she did not want to be in court and accused the defendant of taking her daughter's life as well as that of Ms Thornton.

Fire officer Edward Manley told the court when he cut the defendant from his crashed car the accused had been 'very irate, trying to grab him and was all over the shop - not really with it'.

Following the conclusion of the evidence the prosecutor told the jury the defendant had taken a chase which had ended in a catastrophic collision for which he was responsible.

Meanwhile in his address to the jury Michael Collins maintained his innocence and said they should return a not guilty verdict.

Judge Martina Baxter who spent five and a half hours summarising the evidence in her charge to the jury told them to base their judgement on the evidence not on speculation.

After deliberating for two and a half hours the jury of five men and seven minutes returned guilty verdicts on all 16 charges.

Members of Jillian Thornton's family outside Trim Circuit Court. PHOTO: Ciara Wilkinson

Judge Baxter commended the victim's family for the dignity they had shown during the trial and invited Elaine Thornton the dead woman's sister to address the jury.

Miss Thornton said her sister was a kind loving girl who saw good in everyone and had a smile that lit up a room.

'My mother always said if love was money Jillian would be a millionaire,' said Ms Thornton who added that her sister never knew Michael Collins until the evening she died.

The judge also commended the gardai for the bravery they had shown on the night and the work of the prosecuter and state solicitor Liam Keane during the lengthy trial.

Judge Baxter remanded Collins in custody to 21st May for sentence at a later date.