Two companies on trial over fatal 2006 bus crash

A Westmeath vehicle testing firm and the owners of an Offaly bus hire company have gone on trial charged in connection with a fatal school bus crash in 2006.

Michael White, 15, died when the bus went out of control and crashed near Clara in Co Offaly on 4 April.

The jury was told the back axle came off the vehicle during the accident. The bus had been tested the previous year. The rear suspension had been modified.

Opening the trial for the prosecution, Senior Counsel Caroline Biggs said the State would show no action was taken to maintain the bus when witnesses noticed it was lopsided days before and on the morning of the fatal accident.

Students recalled hearing a loud bang either days or weeks before the accident.

O’Reilly Commercials of Ballinalack, Mullingar, face a number of charges for failing to note defects to the Mercedes bus involved in the crash when it was tested in August 2005 while owned by another person.

Ruairi and Raymond McKeown of River Street, Clara who are partners in Clara Cabs, both face a number of charges under the Health and Safety Act 2005 of failing to keep the bus in a safe condition, a consequence of which a person died.

All defendants deny the charges.

A number of students gave evidence at the trial this morning to say the bus had hit a bump on the road a few days prior to the accident resulting in a very loud bang.

One girl said the day before the accident she could see the bus was leaning to the left and she told the driver saying: “Ger, the bus is f****d.”

She said the driver of the bus was a very safe driver.

Stuart Coyne, who was sitting beside Michael White, told the court the bus was packed that morning and one or two students were sitting in the aisle.

However, in cross-examination he agreed they may have chosen to sit there even it seats were available.

He said he heard a loud bang before the bus started shaking and going all over the place.

He remembered hitting his head off the roof as the bus flipped over and later climbed out a door. Two students were on the road and one girl was badly injured. Someone told him Michael White was under the bus.

He also said the bus rattled all the time, was in poor condition and there was moss on the windows.

A few days before the accident he had heard a very, very loud bang and the back of the bus had bounced off the ground.

He agreed the driver was regarded as a slow driver and he had no issue with the way the bus was driven the day of the accident.

Mr Coyne said it was a very rural road with several bumps, but if you knew the road you could slow down at the appropriate times.

However, he said in his opinion it was a very poor bus adding: “The back axle doesn’t just fall off a bus for no reason.”

He accepted he did not raise any concerns about the bus with his parents or teachers before the accident but said he had often remarked “it was a piece of crap”.

It was put to him that the statement he gave soon after the accident about the condition of the bus was much milder than his evidence today.

He said: “I was asked to give a statement, I was 15 and was not going to start ranting about the condition of a bus. I’m older now and wiser. The guy sitting beside me died in that accident.”

Other students gave evidence to say the accident happened on a good part of the road.

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