The school bus involved in a fatal crash in Offaly was fitted with a modified suspension system which was later recalled because of safety issues, a court heard yesterday (March 6).
The safety recall was made in the UK in 1996 after a high number of incidents of the rear springs failing. In one incident both springs failed and the axle came off the bus.
School boy Michael White (15) died on April 4, 2006 when the rear axle came off the bus and the bus crashed on a bog road just outside Clara, Co Offaly.
David O’Reilly, acting on behalf of vehicle testing firm O’Reilly Commercials Ltd of Ballinalach, Mullingar, Co Westmeath has pleaded not guilty to four charges relating to failing to note or verify defects between August 5 and 6, 2005.
On day ten of the trial at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court Garda Adrian Tucker told Caroline Biggs SC, prosecuting, that school was one of a fleet of Mercedes buses which had being retrofitted in Scotland in 1991 with a Air Ride rear suspension system.
Gda Tucker said that many of these buses ended up being used by a London bus company.
In 1996 a recall notice from a UK agency alerted bus companies there to high incidents of failure of the rear driver side spring and that spring fractures could result in the axle coming off the bus.
The letter recommended immediate inspection of the rear suspension and the tightening of a bolt there. It said one of the causes of fracturing was buses going over speed ramps or uneven surfaces at excessive speeds.
Garda Tucker said it wasn’t possible to establish if the bus that crashed was inspected as part of this safety recall.
In other evidence he said an examination of the bus after the rear suspension identified that there were three older fractures which had occurred around holes drilled to support the air bellows of the Air Ride suspension system.
He told Ms Biggs that a fourth and sudden break fracture occurred quickly and immediately before the crash and this resulted in the axle completely detaching from the bus. He agreed when Ms Biggs said: “This was the last area to go”.
He agreed with Diarmaid McGuinness SC, defending, that a latent defect could have existed in the rear suspension from the time it was fitted in 1991 and that this could have gone unnoticed during an examination.
The garda told Mr McGuinness that he had not seen a statement from Mercedes Benz manufacturers that it was unclear if even a mechanic trained by them would have noticed the changes to the bus.
The trial continues before Judge Margaret Heneghan and a jury of ten men and two women.