Westmeath vehicle testing firm fined over fatal school bus crash

A vehicle testing firm has been fined €25,000 after being convicted of breaching health and safety law relating to the testing of a school bus which was involved in a fatal crash.

A vehicle testing firm has been fined €25,000 after being convicted of breaching health and safety law relating to the testing of a school bus which was involved in a fatal crash.

However a stay was put on payment of the fine by Judge Margaret Heneghan pending an appeal by the testing firm, O’Reilly Commercials Ltd.

The testing firm had failed to note the modified rear suspension on the bus prior to the crash. This modification had earlier been the subject of a recall. It was agreed by the prosecution that this offence was not the cause of the crash and the company could not be blamed for the fatality.

The bus went out of control on a bog road just outside Clara, Co Offaly on April 4, 2006 after the rear drive axle came off. A number of the children traveling to school that morning were injured and Michael White (15) died as a result of his “catastrophic injuries”.

Judge Heneghan imposed the fine after being informed that the company has sufficient means to pay it. She said there were no aggravating factors in the case and that the company have an otherwise flawless safety record.

The judge also noted there was no regime to track vehicle modifications across Europe.

Counsel for the Director of Public Prosecutions said they intend to apply for their costs to be paid by the defence.

O’Reilly’s defence counsel said they will be applying for the costs to be paid by the State as they had successfully defended themselves against two of the three counts against them.

Judge Heneghan set a date in October to decide the issue.

David O’Reilly, acting on behalf of the firm of Ballinalach, Mullingar, Co Westmeath had pleaded not (NOT) guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to four charges of breaching health and safety laws when carrying out an official test on the 1989 Mercedes bus between August 5 and 6, 2005.

After a 23-day trial the jury of ten men and two women deliberated for just under eight hours before returning a verdict of guilty on the first count which outlined a failure to note the modified rear suspension system.

The company was found not (NOT) guilty of failing to verify this modified suspension as safe. It was also acquitted of failing to note a missing bolt and failing to take account of a fracture in the chassis.

A bolt missing from the right side of the rear suspension system led to fatigue fractures, ultimately resulting in both sides of the suspension failing and the rear drive axle separating from the 1989 Mercedes bus.

This air bag based spring system at the rear of the bus was retro-fitted in the UK in 1991 and was the subject of a safety recall notice in 1991. In direct evidence Mr O’Reilly said he didn’t think the system was modified.

Raymond McKeown of River Street, Clara, Co Offaly, who bought the bus in September 2005, previously pleaded guilty to failing to maintain the bus under health and safety laws. He was given a 12 month suspended sentence last month.