Elderly woman accidentally killed best friend of 70 years in parking blunder after school reunion
Patricia Tulip was said to have felt a "great deal of remorse" after a series of errors caused fatal injuries to her passenger, Joyce Nainby, outside the 80-year-old's home in Gosforth, Newcastle.
A court heard that after parking, the defendant's Skoda Roomster had started to roll backwards, at which point Tulip - realising that she had left it in reverse instead of neutral and that she had not applied the handbrake properly - quickly got back inside.
But instead of braking, the pensioner accidentally pressed on the accelerator, causing the vehicle to hurtle backwards towards grandmother-of-six Mrs Nainby, who was hit by the open side door.
Newcastle Crown Court heard that the stricken woman was rushed to hospital, but eventually died from her injuries 10 days after the accident happened on September 18 2018.
Prosecutors said the pair had gone to school together around 70 years ago, and had been best friends.
Tulip admitted causing death by careless driving following the incident and on Tuesday was told she will have to carry out 100 hours of unpaid work.
Sentencing her, Judge Amanda Rippon said: "As a result of a series of careless errors by you, your car very sadly became the implement responsible for your old and great friend's tragic death.
"Although she was 80, she was fit and she was active, and she had every reason to expect many more years with her family."
Tulip was banned from driving for three years - but the court heard that she gave up her licence immediately after the accident.
Describing how the loss had "completely devastated" the Nainby family, the judge said the victim's husband of 64 years, Peter, died months after the incident without her by his side.
"There is no sentence that I can give that will bring back Joyce Nainby for her family, or for you," the judge told the defendant.
The court heard that the two friends had been driving back together in the Skoda from a school reunion when the accident happened, with witnesses saying that Tulip, of Seghill,
Northumberland, was a trusted and competent motorist with many years' experience.
A neighbour said the Skoda appeared to reverse at speed, with the side door knocking Mrs Nainby to the ground before hitting a parked vehicle.
The victim was knocked unconscious and never woke up, eventually dying from a head injury, the court heard.
In a statement read out in court, one of Mrs Nainby's three children, Geoffrey, said the incident had changed their family's lives forever.
"Put simply, she was not ready to go," he told the court.
The statement added that Geoffrey Nainby's father, Peter, was ill with both Parkinson's disease and cancer at the time of the crash, and died in July.
"Their final years could have been so different. Mum could and should have been here to look after Dad in his final months.
"Like so many others, we felt confident that terrible things only happen to other people, but then this happened to us."
Shaun Routledge, defending, said Tulip, who wore a purple coat and mopped away tears during the hearing, had written a letter of condolence to her friend's family.
"I have not come across, in over 30 years, a set of facts or circumstances that are similar to these," he told the court.
In a statement issued following the sentencing, Mrs Nainby's family said they were disappointed by the defendant's failure to take responsibility earlier.
They said: "Whilst we accept that the events of that day were a tragic accident caused through Mrs Tulip's carelessness, every action and decision made by her beyond that date has been made without any respect or consideration whatsoever for the feelings of our family.
"As a friend of our Mum's, we didn't seek punishment for Mrs Tulip, all we ever wanted was an acceptance of responsibility.
"Maybe naively, we expected her to 'do the right thing' from the start but, as that was not the case, we had no option other than to support a prosecution through the courts."
The statement added that, as a result of the delay between the incident and Tulip's sentencing, Peter Nainby had not been able to get closure before his death.