Repairs were planned for bus involved in fatal Clara crash

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The Offaly school bus crash trial has heard that the owner of the bus company planned to change shock absorbers on the bus a week after the crash.

The Offaly school bus crash trial has heard that the owner of the bus company planned to change shock absorbers on the bus a week after the crash.

The bus crashed on a bog road just outside Clara, Co Offaly on April 6, 2006 when the rear wheel axle came away and the bus flipped over. School boy Michael White (15) died as a result of the accident.

The owners of Clara Cabs, Raymond and Ruairi McKeown, both of River St, Clara, are charged with failing to maintain the bus leading to the death of the school boy on April 4, 2006.

Westmeath vehicle testing company O’Reilly Commercials Ltd of Ballinalach, Co Mullingar is charged with failing to note defects in the 1989 Mercedes bus when it was tested in August 2005. All the accused have denied all the charges.

Raymond McKeown told gardai that a few days before the crash the driver Ger Buckley told him that one of the children had heard a noise when the bus hit a bump.

Mr McKeown said the driver told him there were no problems driving the bus and the noise was “nothing more than a shock absorber going over a bumpy road”. He told gardai that he decided they would get the shock absorber changed during Easter Term break, which was a week away.

He told gardai that in September 2005 he paid €5,000 for the 35 seater bus and he believed the bus was safe and had passed it’s Department of the Environment (DOE) road worthiness test.

He said that the former owner James Gaffey had produced an official DOE certificate issued by O’Reilly Commericals Ltd.

He told gardai in August 2006 that the business has ceased because his family were so devastated by the tragic accident. He said the family and the family name have been destroyed.

Garda Michael Nolan told Diarmaid McGuinness SC, defending O’Reilly Commercials Ltd that David O’Reilly from O’Reilly Commercials Ltd told him he had tested the bus in August 2005 and found it to be in “above average” condition.

He said Mr O’Reilly told him: “I found no defects or any modifications that caused me concern”. Garda Nolan said he was satisfied that the test centre was fit for the examination of HGVs and buses.

The court heard that the previous owner told Garda Nolan that the only problem he had with the bus was the rear right spring.

Gda Nolan agreed with Kenneth Fogarty SC, defending Raymond McKeown, that this information could have made the hairs stand on the back of his neck because of the importance of the rear wheel axle in the crash investigation.

He also told Mr Fogarty that he didn’t interview the mechanic who had dealt with this problem in 2002 because he had emigrated to Australia. He said that he didn’t know the spring used to fix the problem was second hand until he heard it said in court last week.

The owners of Clara Cabs, Raymond and Ruairi McKeown, both of River Street, Clara have pleaded not (NOT) guilty to six counts of failing to maintain the 1989 Mercedes bus, two of which relate to the death of the school boy on April 4, 2006.

David O’Reilly, acting on behalf of O’Reilly Commercials Ltd of Ballinalach, Mullingar, Co Westmeath has pleaded not (NOT) guilty to four charges relating to failing to note or verify defects when they tested the bus between August 5 and 6, 2005.

In detail, 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.

The trial continues before Judge Margaret Heneghan and a jury of ten men and two women.