'Horrific': Woman convicted over fatal, freak accident
A FAST and sudden lurch backwards, a high-pitched squeal of protesting tyres followed by a deafening silence is all a Gladstone woman can remember of the night that would change her life forever.
What began as a joyous Christmas event for members of the Gladstone Orchid and Foliage Society at the Queensland Rail Institute hall, ended in a horrific accident that saw one society member killed and another severely injured.
Ready to call it a night after celebrating with fellow members of the club, Elizabeth Yvonne Gill left the hall accompanied by a male friend, who had promised to help reverse her car out of the space where she had parked earlier in the evening.
The elderly woman watched on as he reversed her car from the parking bay, drove through the carpark and left the car idling in the front driveway of the hall, making it easier for her to drive out from the lot.
He later told police he left the handbrake on and put the car in neutral, leaving it running for the woman.
He told police he offered to help her get into the car, and then turned to walk away as she put her seat belt on. A few seconds later he heard a horrific noise.
It was this next moment that keeps Mrs Gill tossing and turning in her bed every night, re-living the scenario that was about to play out.
Instead of moving forward, her car jolted backwards into reverse, travelling eight to thirteen metres.
Two other ladies of the society walking to their own cars didn't see it coming.
Both were crushed by the car, with one victim was pronounced dead at the scene.
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The other was transported to hospital with severe injuries.
These were the facts read out in the Gladstone Magistrates Court after Gill pleaded guilty to one charge of driving without due car and attention or driving without reasonable consideration for other persons using the road.
It was made clear in court that this was the charge she was being sentenced for, and she was not being sentenced on any other basis.
It was revealed there were no defects to Gill's car, and there was no explanation for the vehicle going into reverse.
Gill's husband and friend sat in the back of the courtroom to support her at her sentencing,
Defence lawyer Cassandra Ditchfield said her client had suffered tremendously because of that fateful night, knowing her actions had cost another woman and a member of a club she was associated with her life.
The woman who survived the accident had been a long-time friend of Gill's and both had been attending the society for about 40 years together.
However, the relationship between the two had fallen apart.
While the extent of the woman's injuries were not disclosed, the court heard she would need constant care.
Gill was also no longer welcome in the society, and had become an object of ridicule and harassment, Ms Ditchfield told the court.
The lawyer said her client had also been abused on several occasions.
This shocked Magistrate Melanie Ho, who said that the offending was clearly nothing more than a "tragic accident".
Ms Ditchfield agreed.
After the sentence, Gladstone Orchid and Foliage Society president Len Dowling confirmed Gill was no longer a member, and said that she was not welcome at any future events.
Ms Ditchfield said her client had trouble sleeping at night and was constantly overcome with thoughts of how she could have prevented it from happening.
Unrelated to the offending and upon turning 75, Gill had to complete a medical examination that would provide her with a fit-to-drive certificate, the court was told.
However, complications saw her licence temporarily suspended.
The court heard she needed her licence, given she and her husband lived in Beecher, a fair distance from shopping centres and medical services.
Ms Ho said it was clear Gill had suffered a considerable amount of emotional distress both socially and financially.
She said it was true that the accident did involve a fatality, however, it was entirely unintentional on the defendant's behalf and the defendant had shown significant remorse.
Nevertheless, Ms Ho said the Gladstone community needed assurance that someone who posed a danger on the roads must face some level of consequence.
She fined Gill $750 and disqualified her licence for one month.
A conviction was recorded.
Wiping tears from her face, Gill stood with the help of her walking frame and hugged her lawyer at the end of the sentence.
"Thanks, Cass," she said.