A life full of promise torn away as 'beautiful soul' drove to celebrate 30th with family

Saniya Riaz dreamed of opening a bakers with her aunt. Before Your Girl Can Bake opened its doors she was killed by a drink driver. Now her mural adorns the wall of the business in Nelson
Saniya Riaz dreamed of opening a bakers with her aunt. Before Your Girl Can Bake opened its doors she was killed by a drink driver. Now her mural adorns the wall of the business in Nelson -Credit:YGCB

On the morning of October 13, 2022, Saniya Riaz hugged her little boy and sent him off to school.

The kind-hearted mum had turned 30 the day before and was looking forward to celebrations with her family. She and her husband Mohammed Khan had booked a table for an evening meal, and her family had excitedly bought presents to mark the milestone birthday.

But as Saniya and Mohammed drove back to the family home in Nelson, just before 8pm, they were struck by a drunk driver who ploughed their Toyota off the road. Gary Pearce was twice the drink drive limit and had been driving his Mercedes C220 at speeds of 130mph on the 70mph A56 Accrington East Bypass.

As Pearce, 59, approached the roundabout at junction 8 of the M65, he made a last minute decision to change lanes, colliding with the passenger side of the Toyota CH-R. Saniya and Mohammed’s car was propelled across the dual carriageway, flipped on its roof and came to rest in the middle of the roundabout.


Motorists travelling along the road said they saw the Mercedes going ‘at least 100mph’ moments before the collision. One described seeing debris flying in the air as he heard a loud bang at the junction.

As Saniya lay fatally injured in the wreckage, Pearce remained in the driver's seat of his Mercedes and lit a cigarette. “He seemed very nonchalant and didn’t seem to care what he had done”, one witness said.

Back at the house in Nelson, Samiya’s family waited for her to return home, so they could start the celebrations. But as time passed and there was no sign of the young couple, they began to worry.

Gary Pearce
Gary Pearce -Credit:Lancs Police

Saniya’s brother, Waqas Ahmed, tried desperately to call his sister but the phone was ringing out. When it was eventually answered, a paramedic broke the terrible news that there had been an accident - and Saniya was seriously injured.

The family rushed to be by her bedside as the devoted mum, who dreamed of opening a bakery with her aunt, lay on life support. Her mother, Robina Kosar said she ‘prayed a lot’ through the night, hoping for a recovery.

“In the morning the nurses came to get me to see Saniya”, she said. “I got relieved that she had gained consciousness and that is why we can see her. Then when we went into the room I couldn’t see her. She was on machines, and we thought then she wouldn’t survive.

“There was a holy man there from the mosque and he asked us to give permission to the doctors to turn the machines off. She couldn’t be saved. He said as it was the blessed day Friday, she would be blessed.”

Pearce, of Denton Lane, Chadderton, pleaded guilty to causing death by dangerous driving. He said he had been drinking heavily since his wife died earlier in 2022. But he said on the day of the collision he ‘did not doubt for a moment’ he was fit to drive.

Breathalyser tests taken at the scene and at the police station suggested otherwise, with Pearce blowing 69mcg alcohol per 100ml - twice the legal limit.

Sentencing Pearce to 10 years in prison, Judge Phillip Parry said: “Your alcohol consumption became such that it became normal to have alcohol in your system on a daily basis and still drive. You say that while driving too fast you had a lapse of concentration and that you are terribly and dreadfully sorry.

“As a result of your highly dangerous driving, a young woman died. Saniya should never have died in the circumstances she did.

“You took away a child’s mother, a husband’s wife, a mother and father’s daughter and a sister from her loving siblings. You acted selfishly that night, arrogantly thinking you could drive that speed at twice the drink drive limit.

“I am told it was your norm to have alcohol in your system every day and that you thought it didn’t affect you. Plainly it did.”

In moving victim statements, Saniya’s family said Pearce had ‘ruined their lives.’ Her aunt Ikraa Riaz, who said she thought of Saniya as a sister, said they were planning on opening a bakery together, Your Girl Can Bake.

The women were excited to begin their new business together, but now a mural of Saniya adorns the wall at the bakery she dreamed of opening.

Her son, now eight, lives in Denmark with his father, who runs a business there. The family speaks to the little boy on FaceTime but say their home in Nelson is quiet without the loving mum and son laughing and watching TV together after school each day.

Saniya’s clothes still hang in the wardrobe, and her birthday presents they so excitedly wrapped for her remain unopened, as they did on October 13, 2022.

Ikraa, who now runs the bakery Your Girl Can Bake, which the women planned to open together, said: “Saniya was loved by each and every person that had the privelege to know her. She had a loving and generous soul. She loved with all her big heart and spread kindness wherever she was."

The family are now raising money to help orphans worldwide, sharing Saniya's kind and loving spirit in her name. To donate visit their Just Giving page.