Bus driver tells Offaly bus crash trial that he saw no problems with the bus

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The driver involved in a fatal school bus crash has told a court that he didn’t think the bus was in bad condition and that his own children would ride the bus.

The driver involved in a fatal school bus crash has told a court that he didn’t think the bus was in bad condition and that his own children would ride the bus.

By Declan Brennan

Ger Buckley was speaking on day three of the trial of Offaly bus company owners, Raymond and Ruairi McKeown, who face charges of failing to maintain the bus under health and safety law.

The packed bus went out of control and flipped on a school run on April 4, 2006. School boy Michael White (15) died after suffering “catastrophic injuries” in the crash.

Mr Buckley said that one school child had previously told him about hearing a bang from the back of the bus and he reported this to the McKeowns.

He told Kenneth Fogarty SC, defending Raymond McKeown, that he never noticed the bus as being lob-sided and that no-one had ever pointed this out to him. 

He said if he had been told about the “tilting” along with the banging noise he would not have driven the bus.

He said: “I wouldn’t drive it for fear that exactly what happened, would happen”.

He agreed with Caroline Biggs SC, prosecuting, that he was not a qualified mechanic but said he was “pretty sure” he would notice if the bus were lob-sided.

He said: “I’d have noticed it when the air was being put it. I’d be pretty sure I’d notice something like that”.

He added: “I wouldn’t say it was in bad condition. I carried my own kids on that bus every

morning.”

The jury have previously heard evidence from some of the school children who said they noticed the bus tilting noticeably to one side.

The driver said that after he told the McKeowns about the report of the bang he said Raymond McKeown would ask him in passing how the bus was going. He told Mr McKeown it was going fine.

He told the court that the upcoming Easter break was an ideal time to put the buses in for a service rather than having them off the road during the school term.

Mr Buckley said the first passenger would normally be Ciara McKeown, Ruairi McKeown’s daughter, as he would pick her up after driving the bus from the yard behind the family home.

He told the court that she would sit in the seat behind the driver’s seat but that she didn’t get on the bus the morning of the crash. He said that the deceased, 15-year-old Michael White, ended up sitting in that seat that morning.

The owners of Clara Cabs, Raymond and Ruairi McKeown, both of River Street, Clara are charged six counts with 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.

All the accused have denied all the charges.

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.