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Tuesday 16 September 2014

Grandmother feared being crushed by school bus week prior to crash, court told

Declan Brennan

Published 21/02/2013 | 13:20

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Mary Jo Connolly

A grandmother has told a trial over a bus crash in which a schoolboy died that she thought the same bus was going to turn over and crush her and her grandchild.

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Michael White (15) was left with “catastrophic  injuries” after the school bus went out of control and crashed on a bog road just outside Clara, Co Offaly, on April 4, 2006.

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

The owners of Clara Cabs, Raymond and Ruairi McKeown, both of River St., Clara, Co Offaly are charged with failing to maintain the bus leading to the death of the school boy. All the accused have denied all the charges at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court.

On the second day of the trial local woman Mary Jo Connolly told prosecuting counsel Caroline Biggs SC that she got an “awful fright” when she saw the bus leaning over towards her on the road.

She said: “I had my grandchild with me in a buggy. I noticed the bus was leaning over towards me. I was afraid it was going to come over on top of me. I got an awful fright.”

She said she ran with the buggy into a nearby gateway to get off the road. She said: “I was trying to protect my child. I ran and got into Griffith's gate because I was afraid it was going to turn over.”

She said this was the same bus as the one that crashed a week after this incident.  

Defence counsel for Raymond McKeown, Kenneth Fogarty SC challenged her identification  of the bus. He put it to her that she had told an investigating garda after the accident that the bus she saw leaning a week earlier had the words “Rahan Transport” on the side.

She said: “I told him the first bus always had writing on it. I told him the second one, the one that crashed, was leaning over.”

“The bus that was leaning over on me, the bus that I had to get out of the way of, is the bus that had no writing on it”

Mr Fogarty asked why she didn't put this in her statement to gardai at the time and she said: “I thought that was the way it was”.

Raymond and Ruairi McKeown face six charges of failing to maintain the 09 Mercedes bus, a place of work, in a condition that was safe and without risk to health.

Two of these charge that as a consequence of this failure Michael White suffered personal injury and died. They have pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Daivd O'Reilly, acting on behalf of O'Reilly Commercials Ltd of Ballinalach, Mullingar, Co  Westmeath, pleaded not guilty to four charges relating to failing to note or verify defects when they tested the Mercedes bus between August 5 and 6, 2005.

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 jury have previously being told they will hear evidence from the State that the bus had been tested by O'Reilly Commercials in 2005 and that a year later the back axle came off the vehicle during the fatal accident.

The trial continues before Judge Margaret Heneghan.

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