Stawell woman Lorraine Nicholson, 66, will not be jailed after pleading guilty to the immensely tragic event that caused the deaths of four women in Victoria’s west in 2018.

April 16, 2020 18:05:09
A 66-year-old Stawell woman has been sentenced to a four-year community corrections order over the “immensely tragic event” that caused the deaths of four women in Victoria’s west in 2018.
Key points:

  • Lorraine Nicholson’s 4WD drove through a stop sign and crashed into the car carrying the four women who died
  • Nicholson today pleaded guilty to four charges of dangerous driving causing death and must do 500 hours of unpaid community work
  • The judge took into account her “exemplary good character”

Lorraine Nicholson drove her car through an intersection near Navarre, outside of St Arnaud, hitting another vehicle driven by Hamilton woman Elaine Middleton, 75, on the evening of May 5, 2018.
Ms Middleton, 75, Heywood woman Dianne Barr, 64, Portland woman Claudia Jackson, 71, and Hamilton woman Margaret Ely, 74, were returning from a line-dancing afternoon at St Arnaud.
All four were killed in the crash.
This morning, Nicholson pleaded guilty to four charges of dangerous driving causing death in the County Court sitting in Ballarat.
“I have found this an extremely difficult and moving case,” Judge Michael Bourke told the court via videolink.
Nicholson must do 500 hours of unpaid community work and her driver’s licence has been cancelled for eight years.
After the sentencing, Ms Middleton’s brother Neville Ballinger released a statement:
“The family of Elaine Middleton are bitterly disappointed with the very soft and patronising penalty, after all Nicholson was wholly responsible for four deaths,” Mr Ballinger said.
All four of the women were members of the Hamilton Bootscooters.
The group’s dance instructor, Linda Rook, issued a statement also critical of the sentence.
“The line dancing community are saddened the lives of our four active happy ladies, taken so carelessly, did not appear to be worth more than community service,” the statement said.
“They will always be loved and greatly missed at our line dancing classes and in our communities.”
Accused’s ‘exemplary good character’ taken into account
Judge Bourke told Nicholson that he took into account her “exemplary good character”, despite there still being no explanation for what happened.
“You are genuinely and highly remorseful,” he said.
During the trial, Judge Bourke inspected four cards Nicholson keeps in her purse, each with the name of one of the dead women.
The cards had details about the women’s lives, including the names of children and grandchildren.
During sentencing, the judge referred to the cards which she “used to commemorate and reflect upon the four deceased victims and their families”.
“The Victim Impact Statements present a picture of the four women who led fine lives, contributing in a lasting way to their families and their communities,” he said.
The court had heard Nicholson drove her 4WD through a stop sign at more than 90 kilometres per hour at dusk.
Prosecutors said she passed a number of 80kph signs, as well as a reduce speed sign.
In her police statement, the court heard she said just before the crash she turned on her wipers to clean a grimy windscreen.
She thought she put her foot on the brake, but the car took off instead, the court heard.
Witness still haunted by the ‘horrific memories’
A victim impact statement was read to the court from Deborah Stanfield, who witnessed the crash from her verandah and has since been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
After the crash she found hundreds of pieces of car wreckage.
“Each small piece brought back horrific memories for me,” she said in the statement.
Her front yard became an emergency staging area immediately after the incident, and then a place where family members and friends of the victims came to mourn.
“People wanted to talk [they were] needing reassurance,” her statement said.
The court heard she has since moved house but continues to have night terrors reliving the event.
“A normal person doesn’t experience one person’s death, but to witness four is beyond belief,” she said.
First posted
April 16, 2020 13:40:50