A Grand Court judge “unconsciously” drove for several miles in her night clothes before crashing her car into a concrete barrier, a court heard.
Justice Ingrid Mangatal told police in the aftermath of the accident that she had no recollection of the episode, which medical experts testified could have been caused by a mixture of alcohol and anti-anxiety medication.
Ms. Mangatal had her license suspended for a year and was fined a total of $600 Thursday after pleading guilty to charges of driving under the influence of alcohol and careless driving. Prosecutors described how she drove her Suzuki vehicle across the carriageway on West Bay Road, mounted the curb and collided with a barrier close to Governors Square on Sept. 4 last year.
She was breathalyzed and found to have a blood-alcohol level of 0.161. The legal limit is 0.100.
Speaking on her behalf during Thursday’s Summary Court hearing, attorney Ben Tonner said she recalled having three glasses of wine with dinner on the night in question before getting ready for bed.
“She remembers nothing from that point in time to being pulled from a crashed car in Governors Square,” he said.
“She said she does not recollect leaving home, she does not recollect driving, and she has never been out driving in her night-wear in all her years.”
He said this was not being raised as a defense because the legal barrier for proving “automatism” which requires the “complete destruction of voluntary control” was too high to meet in this case.
But he said two medical experts for the defense and a forensic toxicologist consulted by the Crown had all indicated that the anti-anxiety medication Ms. Mangatal was taking, combined with alcohol, could cause this type of unconscious action.
He said Dr. Marc Lockhart, consulted by the defense, had described the incident as an “amnesic episode.” Mr. Tonner said a report by the Crown’s expert had concluded Ms. Mangatal’s actions were “not intentional” and were caused by the combination of the medication and alcohol.
A second expert consulted by the Crown disagreed, and attributed the incident purely to alcohol consumption, he acknowledged.
Though he outlined the expert witness testimony in some detail, Mr. Tonner said they ultimately had no bearing on the outcome because DUI carries a mandatory minimum sentence.
Outlining the details of the incident, Director of Public Prosecutions Cheryll Richards said Ms. Mangatal’s vehicle was observed driving erratically along West Bay Road just after 10 p.m. on the night of Sept. 4.
At the intersection with Lime Tree Bay Avenue, she said, reports indicated the car had veered across the road, causing oncoming traffic to take evasive action. The judge’s vehicle mounted the curb and collided with a barrier. A witness observed that Ms. Mangatal appeared to be staggering and came to her aid before calling police. She was breathalyzed at the scene and later at the detention center and was found to be over the legal limit on both occasions.
Ms. Richards said Ms. Mangatal had told police on the night she had no recollection of getting in her car and mentioned that she was taking medication for situational anxiety.
Mr. Tonner said his client had not appreciated the extreme side effects that could occur from combining the medication with alcohol. He said she had described the incident as “frightening” and “one of the worst experience[s] of her life” and was relieved that no one was hurt. He said she was a highly respected high court judge with no previous convictions of any kind.
Magistrate Juan Wolffe, flown in from Bermuda to handle the case, said he saw no aggravating features to raise the sentence beyond the mandatory minimum of a 12-month driving ban and $350 fine. He also fined her $250 for the separate charge of careless driving.
“There is no doubt that persons who come before the court, no matter their situation in life, should be treated the same,” he said before passing sentence.
“I am comfortable in saying that the unique nature of the position she is in, the work that she does and her unblemished reputation, makes the effect of this offense more humiliating and embarrassing for her. Any sentence I can give will pale into comparison to the damage to her reputation.”
He said the fact that she had pleaded guilty and spared the territory the expense of a technical defense spoke loudly to her good character and level of contrition.