‘I’ll never forgive myself’ - teenage Norfolk driver locked up for killing friend in Halloween crash
A teenage motorist who spent all night partying for Halloween wept in the dock as the court was told she would never forgive herself for killing her friend and seriously injuring three other passengers.
Eleanor Coleman crashed into a lorry parked in a layby on the A47 at North Burlingham - after taking a fateful decision to drive after missing a train into Norwich.
The 19-year-old had been for a night out with her friends in the city wearing fancy dress costumes for Halloween when the Fiat Punto car she was driving went off the road and crashed into the lorry before it burst into flames, Norwich Crown Court heard.
Lorry driver Peter Jolly was first on the scene and his brave actions managed to save Coleman's life by dragging her out of the car moments before it exploded. He also flagged down drivers to help get the other three passengers safely from the car.
But Ellie Tweed, 18, who was a front seat passenger, was trapped inside the car and died at the scene.
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The tragedy prompted Norfolk police to issue a warning for young people to take care when planning to go out and enjoy any Halloween festivities.
Chris Youell, prosecuting, said a post mortem showed Ellie she had already received injuries in the crash from which she would not have survived.
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The accident happened just after 5am and the court heard that Coleman had been up most of the night partying in Norwich. Tests showed she had taken ecstasy and cannabis although he stressed there was no evidence she was under the influence of any of these substances when the crash happened.
At first she did not confirm straight away she had been the driver of the car but an examination of the crash scene showed she had been driving at about 40mph when the accident happened: 'She had been up all night and for some reason went off the road and into the layby. She was not speeding: she was driving along at 40pmh. There was no reason for the car to leave the road other than the inattention of the driver.'
He said that Coleman herself was injured in the crash along with the three other passengers who suffered serious injuries.
The back seat passengers had not been wearing seat belts.
Passenger Amber Todd had a number of injuries including her neck broken in two places and a punctured lung; Amy Williams suffered a palsy which caused her eyelid to droop; and Emily Hall suffered multiple fractures, has nine metal plates in her face and has had to have operations to rebuild her eye socket.
Mr Youell said when interviewed about the crash, Coleman had said that they planned to get a train from Acle into Norwich but after missing the train she offered to drive.
Coleman of School Road, Runham, near Great Yarmouth, who was weeping in the dock, admitted causing the death of Ellie Tweed by careless driving on November 1 last year and was sent to a young offenders' institution for 15 months. She was also given a three-year driving ban and ordered to take an extended test before getting back behind the wheel.
Judge Peter Jacobs told her: 'You were tired and not in the mindset to drive at all.'
He added it was a tragedy for everyone concerned and said he wished that people would learn from cases like this: 'People would think twice before they did what this young lady did because there is no going back.'
He told Coleman: 'You will regret this for the rest of your life.'
The families of those involved also were in tears sitting in court and Judge Jacobs told them: 'Whatever sentence I pass will satisfy nobody.' However he said the courts had to mark the seriousness of an offence such as this.
Michael Clare, for Coleman, said she did not want him to make any excuses for her: 'She's here to be punished and accepts that.'
In a letter to the judge she said: 'I hate myself for everything that has happened and will never forgive myself.'
He said that she had a head injury in the crash and had no recollection of what happened.
'It's difficult to imagine that she would have fallen asleep. She was distracted in some way and the vehicle has left the road.'
He said that the actions of the lorry driver had almost certainly saved her life.
After the case Insp David Ball of Norfolk road policing unit said: 'Eleanor Coleman has paid a very high price for driving carelessly.
'I would ask people to think about what happened last Halloween before they head out this year to enjoy festivities.'
'If you are going on a night out plan your journey, book a taxi or check timetables. A designated driver must be exactly that: do not risk drinking or taking anything which could impair your ability to drive.'
Steve Matthews of Norfolk Serious Collision investigation team said: 'These girls have all been left with lasting injuries and severe impairments in some cases, and one has sadly lost her life. A fun night out very quickly turned into a nightmare which has changed forever the lives of those involved.'