Owner of school bus involved in fatal Clara crash sentenced

By Declan Brennan

Reporter:

By Declan Brennan

The owner of a school bus which crashed in Offaly six years ago, causing the death of a teenager, has received a suspended jail sentence for an offence of failing to maintain the bus.

The owner of a school bus which crashed in Offaly six years ago, causing the death of a teenager, has received a suspended jail sentence for an offence of failing to maintain the bus.

The bus lost control and flipped over on a bog road just outside Clara, Co Offaly on April 4, 2006 when the back axle came away.

School boy Michael White (15) died as a result of “catastrophic injuries” suffered in the crash.

Raymond McKeown (61), a co-owner of Clara Cabs, River Street, Clara had pleaded not guilty to three counts of failing to maintain the 1989 Mercedes bus, one of which say this failure led to the death of Michael White on April 4, 2006.

During a trial the Director of Public Prosecutions accepted a guilty plea to the charge of failing to maintain the bus in a condition that was safe and without risk to the health and welfare of persons other than his employees. The two other charges were withdrawn.

Judge Margaret Heneghan said she reviewed the financial information provided by McKeown and said they showed that liabilities exceeded assets.

She said there was no point in imposing a fine where there is no possibility of repayment. She suspended a 12 month prison sentence for 12 months.

She said she was taking into consideration McKeown’s otherwise good character, his plea of guilty and his expressions of genuine remorse.

She said that there was no causation aspect to the offence and that the court’s sentence was not a sanction for the untimely death of Michael White.

At a previous sentencing hearing Inspector John Sheeran from the Health and Safety Authority told Caroline Biggs SC, prosecuting, that the children on the bus had reported loud bangs and rattling on the bus to the bus driver.

Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard that when the bus driver reported this back to Mr McKeown days before the crash, the owner said he would service the bus during the upcoming Easter break, which was less than a fortnight away.

Paul Greene SC, defending, said this was a “foolish decision” which was in part down to the fact that the bus had passed an official roadworthiness test months earlier.

He said his client wished to express his “great regret and remorse with respect to the untimely death of young Master White”.

Counsel noted that on the day of the crash the schoolboy had unfortunately sat in a seat directly behind the driver’s seat. This seat was normally occupied by McKeown’s granddaughter but she was not on the bus that day.

Mr McKeown’ son, Ruairi McKeown, also a co-owner of Clara Cabs, had pleaded not (NOT) guilty to the same three counts as his father. These charges were withdrawn when Raymond McKeown’s plea was accepted by the State.

Defence counsel said that as a result of the fatal crash the McKeown’s business is gone and that Mr McKeown has suffered adversely on a social level in the local community.

He said this was a heavy burden to carry and that he has since sold the family home and moved into rented accommodation. The father of two is now employed as a boat repair man for Waterways Ireland.

His only other convictions relate to the same bus crash. He pleaded guilty and was fined by the district court for having no tax, no insurance and no Public Service Vehicle license for the school bus in April 2006.

Counsel said that the lack of insurance on the bus had not adversely affected the settlement of claims by the families of children who were injured during the crash.

A vehicle testing firm O’Reilly Commercials Ltd, of Ballinalack, Mullingar, Co Westmeath will be sentenced at a later date after being found guilty of one count of breaching health and safety laws when carrying out an official test on the bus between August 5 and 6, 2005.

David O’Reilly, acting for the company, had pleaded not guilty to four charges relating to failing to note or verify defects when they tested the bus. A jury returned verdicts of not guilty on three of these counts.