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 23m through the window of the other car, and was soon confessing it all – how the car had run into his, 800m 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 2015. As he tells it, the guilt of it has been with him each day since.
On Friday, in Wollongong District Court, Clift broke down as he answered charges of dangerous 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 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 troubled life. But he had managed to “get his life on track” and “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 seeing 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 Ford Festiva rolled through a give way sign at the intersection of Woollybutt Drive and collided with his car.
Learner driver Michelle Beazley was at the wheel of the Ford and Scott Phillips was the front passenger. Shyanne Wilson, a woman in her 20s, sat in the back.
Clift pulled over after the prang, expecting the other driver to do the same, then made the “impulsive decision to try and make [them] stop’’ and pay for the damage after the Ford drove on.
He drew level, then forced the passenger side of his car into the rear of the Ford, causing Ms Beazley to lose control.
The force of the crash caused Ms Wilson to be ejected. She was airlifted to hospital to undergo surgery to relieve swelling on her brain and was placed in an induced coma.
Judge Haesler said the seriousness of the woman’s injuries left him no choice but to jail Clift.
“For that brief moment he took the law into his hands. All he had to do was note the registration number.”
The judge noted Clift’s remorse and early plea in sentencing him to two years’ jail, with a non-parole period of nine months.
Clift went stoically to the cells, on the judge’s parting words. “It is with a heavy heart that I sentence you.”