Boy's injuries after school bus crash 'catastrophic', court hears
Bus company owners Raymond and Ruairi McKeown, River Street, Clara, Co Offaly, outside the Dublin court yesterday. photograph: collins courts
The owners of an Offaly bus company and a Westmeath vehicle-testing firm have gone on trial in relation to a 2006 school bus crash in which a boy died.
Michael White (15) was left with “catastrophic injuries” and died after the school bus he was on went out of control and crashed near Clara, Co Offaly.
It is alleged that in the days before the fatal incident, schoolchildren heard a loud bang and reported the bus as tilting to one side but no action was taken.
The owners of Clara Cabs, Raymond McKeown and his son Ruairi McKeown, both of River Street, Clara, face six charges of failing to maintain the 1989 Mercedes bus, a place of work, in a condition that was safe and without risk to health.
Two of these charges are that as a consequence of this failure, Michael White suffered personal injury and died. They have pleaded not guilty to all charges.
David O’Reilly, acting on behalf of O’Reilly Commercials, Ballinalach, Mullingar, Co Westmeath, pleaded not guilty to four charges relating to failing to note or verify defects when they tested the bus between August 5th and 6th, 2005.
These charges are: failing to note and failing to verify as safe the modified rear suspension in the bus, failing to note the missing bolt in the right rear suspension spring of the bus and failing to take account of a fracture in the chassis.
The offences come under the 1989 and 2005 Safety Health and Welfare at Work Acts.
Opening the State’s case, Caroline Biggs SC said the bus had being tested by O’Reilly Commercials in 2005. She said the jury will hear that a year later the back axle came off the vehicle during the fatal incident.
In the first day of evidence, Stuart Coyne (22) told Ms Biggs he was 15 years old in 2006 and was taking the bus as normal to Killina Presentation Secondary School in Rahan, Tullamore. He sat down beside Michael White and another boy was sitting in the alleyway because the bus was so packed.
He said the bus wasn’t travelling fast and when it got to the bottom of a hill on the Bog Road outside of Clara he heard a “big loud bang”.
He said the bus started shaking and going all over the place before going straight into the edge of the ditch. He remembered “the whole bus just flipping”. He hit his head off the roof and got up in a state of shock. He squeezed his way out of the half-open door and saw students and the bus driver on the road.
One girl was badly hurt and his sister told him someone was underneath the bus. He said that when he looked around, “Michael White was the only one we couldn’t see.”
He said the bus rattled all the time, was in poor condition and there was moss on the windows.
He told Diarmaid McGuinness SC, defending O’Reilly Commercial, there was a really loud bang and “the back end of the bus completely dropped as if there was nothing there”.
He said the driver, Gerard Buckley, was regarded as a slow driver and he had no issue with the way the bus was driven the day of the incident.
Mr White’s cousin Laura Hackett said that on the day before the crash, she noticed the bus was “completely tilted” towards the passenger side. She told the driver: “Ger, the bus is f***ed.” She said she was told it would be fixed in a few weeks.
Kayleigh Murray said that on the morning of the incident she noticed the bus leaning to one side. She told Kenneth Fogarty SC, defending Mr McKeown: “The bus was fairly broken down. I’m not a mechanic but it was tilting to one side.”
The trial continues.