Why Was Matthew Broderick Only Fined Over Fatal Crash?
Matthew Broderick and Jennifer Grey were teen heartthrobs in the summer of 1987, with promising careers in Hollywood ahead of them. The pair first met on the set of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, the movie that catapulted them both to stardom and which brought them together romantically. Having played brother and sister on-screen, off-screen Broderick and Grey entered a secret love affair – one that only came to light under particularly disturbing circumstances.
A child of actors raised in New York City’s Manhattan district, Matthew Broderick made his movie debut as Michael McPhee in 1983’s Max Dugan Returns, which he soon followed with the blockbuster WarGames in 1983 and Ladyhawke in 1985. Then, at the age of 23, he won the lead role in 1986’s Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, playing a mischievous teenager playing hooky in Chicago.
Two years Broderick’s senior, Jennifer Grey had a surprisingly similar upbringing. She, too, was the child of New York actors and attended private school in Manhattan. What’s more, she trained as a stage actress before moving on to TV adverts and small roles in Reckless and The Cotton Club. In 1984, Grey starred in Red Dawn with Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen, before joining the cast of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off as Ferris’ envious sister Jeanie.
A romantic getaway
Grey and Broderick reportedly began dating while Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was still in production. Grey reflects, “I learned so many things about myself from my relationship with Matthew… I was really in love with him… he was just this genius, smart, funny, cute.” Somehow, despite the fact they were both rising stars, the pair managed to keep their relationship hidden from public scrutiny, and, in the summer of 1987, they set out on a romantic holiday: a road trip around Northern Ireland.
Grey and Broderick hired a BMW 316 and planned a route from Irvinestown to Magueiresbridge. They pulled into a local petrol station to ask for directions, where the young American couple were told that their planned route was “just stupid.” An off-duty police officer offered to guide them to a more sensible road, which Broderick refused.
Soon afterwards, a huge rainstorm drove the couple into a different petrol station, where once again they mapped out their route and checked that they were on the right track. Once the rain had passed, they set out again. Only a mile into their drive, on a road 80 miles from Belfast, they crashed head-on into another vehicle.
The driver was 28-year-old Anna Gallagher, and her passenger was her 63-year-old mother Margaret. Both were pronounced dead on arrival at Erne Hospital in Enniskillen.
“Did I hurt them?”
Margaret was a widow and wheelchair user who suffered from multiple sclerosis, living with her 24-year-old son Martin just outside Enniskillen. Her daughter Anna used to take her out on shopping trips in the brown Volvo in which the two perished. Anna lived in the nearby town of Sligo, and was married to an engineer named John. The couple dreamed of having their own children soon.
Local fireman Ken Ramsey attended the scene of the crash, where Broderick’s severely damaged car had to be cut open to free the actor safely. Ramsey has since recalled that the dazed Broderick kept asking him, “Did I hurt them?”
Jennifer Grey escaped from the accident without any major injuries, while Broderick spent one month in Belfast’s Royal Victoria Hospital with a broken leg, a collapsed lung and concussion. Charged with causing death by dangerous driving, he returned to the USA on crutches and a $4,075 bail, awaiting a trial at Enniskillen Magistrates Court the following February.
Speaking to the press after he returned to the USA, Broderick described the deaths of Anna and Margaret as a “terrible, terrible thing.” When asked about his own injuries, he said, “I’m OK. I’ll be all right.”
“I don’t remember the day”
Rumours swirled that Broderick may have been driving on the wrong side of the road. It was later confirmed that Broderick had indeed steered into oncoming traffic. Speaking to the police at the time, Broderick cited his concussion and claimed:
“I don’t remember the day. I don’t remember even getting up in the morning. I don’t remember making my bed. What I first remember is waking up in the hospital, with a very strange feeling going on in my leg.”
Jennifer Grey, however, has vivid recollections of the crash. “It’s very hard to describe when you have a near-death experience and are present for the death of other people,” she said in a 2022 interview with Entertainment Tonight. “Being alone on a country road in the middle of nowhere with nobody else around or conscious was pretty terrifying.”
“I was the sole living witness because Matthew had survived, but he was unconscious and had amnesia and was very badly injured,” she said. “I thought he was dead. I didn’t even know there were two other women who were tragically killed at the time.”
Despite the severity of this case, Broderick was ultimately convicted of careless driving and fined only $175. Relatives of Anna and Margaret described this light sentence as a “travesty of justice,” according to the Associated Press.
The family was thrown back into the spotlight in February 2012 when Broderick starred in a multi-million-dollar Honda commercial that played during the Superbowl. Martin Doherty, who was Anna’s brother and Margaret’s son, commented: “I suppose it wasn’t the greatest choice of drivers knowing his past. I suppose at the end of the day it was years ago. I have forgiven what he had done.”
Doherty has also spoken out about his desire to meet Broderick, to reach closure over his mother’s and sister’s deaths. “There has always been something at the back of my mind that it would close the book totally if I did meet him,” he said in 2012. “I do not dwell on that too much.”
“I became America’s sweetheart”
“It was extremely difficult coming to grips with what happened [in the crash], but in time I felt better about that terrible experience. Therapy helped,” Broderick told the magazine Best in 2002. However, for the most part, Broderick has left this event in the past, rarely discussing it with the press.
In contrast, Grey has been more outspoken about the psychological impact of the car crash. Unbelievably, only five days after the fatal crash, the premiere for Dirty Dancing took place – cementing Grey’s status as a global celebrity (she played the female lead, Baby). Grey has spoken on several occasions about the extreme contrasts of that fateful week.
“The juxtaposition of that deep sorrow, the survivor’s guilt, and then being celebrated as the new big thing just didn’t jibe,” she has since told the press. “It didn’t feel good to be the toast of the town.”
“My head was never the same, my ambition was never the same,” Grey commented later to People magazine. “One minute we’re going down the road and music is playing, and the next minute… it’s all different. I couldn’t be fearless after that,” she said.
“I became America’s sweetheart within five days of the accident,” she noted. The star noted that she suffered whiplash in the crash, leading to chronic headaches and neck pain. To date, Dirty Dancing remains her best-known movie, and she distanced herself from Hollywood in the following decades.
Discussing the matter again in 2022, Grey says the event “changed my life forever and there was no one to blame. And many people might think that I’m here to tell some long held secret. None of that, it’s just we had an accident. It was a pure and simple accident that was tragic. And it had very serious traumatic lasting effects on, I’m sure, Matthew and the family of the other women and me.”