Trial hears that school bus involved in Offaly crash was due to be serviced the following week

Friday 22 February 2013 09.31
The court heard that the 33-seater bus was used to serve a school route for 35 children
The court heard that the 33-seater bus was used to serve a school route for 35 children

The driver of a school bus involved in a fatal crash in Co Offaly seven years ago has said the 17-year-old bus was due to be serviced during the school holidays the week after the accident.

Ger Buckley was giving evidence at the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court in the trial of a vehicle testing company and the owners of the bus hire company, who are charged under health and safety legislation.

Mr Buckley told the court the 33-seater bus was used to serve a school route for 35 children.

He said he remembers one of the passengers saying they had heard a loud bang at the back of the bus a week or two before the accident.

Mr Buckley mentioned it to his employers, Ray and Ruairi McKeown, and they said they would take a look at it.

He said he was informed that the bus would be going in for a "service and overhaul" during the school holidays.

On 4 April 2006, the back axle detached from the bus before it overturned. Michael White, 15, was killed in the crash.

Westmeath vehicle testing company O'Reilly Commercials Ltd of Ballinalack, Mullingar is charged with failing to note defects in the 1989 Mercedes bus when it tested it the year before the accident.

The owners of Clara Cabs, Raymond and Ruairi McKeown, both of River Street, Clara, Co Offaly are charged with failing to maintain the bus leading to the death of the schoolboy.

The accused have denied all the charges.

Mr Buckley said he did not recall the bus leaning to one side the day before the crash, as detailed by a number of witnesses.

He said on the day of the crash he had checked the tyres and lights on the bus as usual before beginning the school run.

On the road to Rahan, he heard a bang and a thud and saw the back axle rolling behind the bus before it turned over.

Students were dazed and confused after the accident. He helped children off the bus and began phoning emergency services and someone told him "young Michael White was under the bus".

Mr Buckley had been travelling at 35-40mph. He knew the road and would take special care over the bumps because he knew the danger of them.

He had ten years' experience as a professional driver at the time of the accident.

During cross-examination, he agreed the bus had been off the road for a number of weeks late the previous year due to engine trouble.

He knew it had gone to two different garages, but had not inquired why it went to two garages for repairs.

His cross-examination continues tomorrow.