Police might never have found the driver who caused a woman’s life-altering injuries, in the pre-dawn darkness of an Albion Park Rail highway.
But Ian Ross Clift never tried to hide. He pulled over, not far from where the woman was thrown 23 metres through the back window of the other car, and was soon confessing it all – how the car had run into his, 800 metres up the road; how he’d chased it down and – in a moment of madness – changed everything for its rear seat passenger.
Police took his keys and he used public transport to get home to the Central Coast. That was in September 2015. As he tells it, the guilt of it has been with him each day since.
On Friday, fronting Wollongong District Court, the solidly built Clift broke down as he answered charges of dangerous driving occasioning grievous bodily harm and negligent driving occasioning grievous bodily harm.
The collision had been the result of a “brain snap” and was the worst mistake of his life, he said. “I feel terrible about it. I hate myself for what I’ve done.”
“There’s not a day goes past without me hating myself for what I’ve done and I just want to say I’m very, very sorry.”
Judge Andrew Haesler heard Clift had endured a difficult childhood and gone on to live a troubled life of severe depression and some crime. But he had managed to “get his life on track” and had “strived to do everything possible to be a model citizen” during the decade preceding the crash.
Clift, 54, credited a Moruya psychologist with his betterment and continued travelling to see the doctor even after relocating from Batemans Bay to the Central Coast.
He was en route to the doctor on September 3, 2015 when a grey Ford Festiva rolled through a give way sign at the intersection of Woollybutt Drive and the highway, and was involved in a minor collision with his silver Hyundai Excel, about 5.50am.
Learner driver Michelle Beazley was at the wheel of the Ford and a man, Scott Phillips, was in the front passenger seat. Shyanne Wilson, a woman in her 20s, sat alone on the back seat.
Clift told the court he pulled over after the prang, expecting the other driver to do the same, then made the “impulsive decision to try and make [them] stop at pay for the damage” after the Ford drove on.
He drew level, then forced the passenger side of his car into the rear driver’s side of the Ford, causing Ms Beazley to lose control.
The Ford went spinning into the guard rail. The force of the crash caused Ms Wilson to be ejected through the rear window.
She was airlifted to St George Hospital to undergo surgery to relieve swelling on her brain and was placed in an induced coma to aid her recovery. Her pelvis, sternum and the base of her skull were fractured. She had suffered a brain injury and her T11 vertebrae was crushed.
Judge Haesler said the seriousness of the woman’s injuries left him no choice but to jail Clift. “Before this, with help from a psychologist he’d got his life on track. And then there was this incident he has understandably been dwelling on ever since, for that couple of seconds of dangerous insanity.”
“For that brief moment he took the law into his hands. All he had to do was not the registration number and that would have been enough.”
The judge noted Clift’s genuine remorse. early plea of guilty and the unlikelihood that he would re-offend.
He was sentenced to two years’ jail, with a non-parole period of nine months making him eligible for release on March 15, 2018. He will also be banned from driving for another two years.
Clift went stoically to the cells, on the judge’s parting words. “It is with a heavy heart that I sentence you.”