Bus 'surge' inquiry on hold
TRANSPORT Minister Martin Cullen will await the outcome of a Dublin Bus investigation into the Wellington Quay crash before considering whether to order an inquiry into allegations of "power surges" in the Dublin Bus and Bus Eireann fleets.
The acquittal of Dublin Bus driver Kenneth Henvey, who was cleared of dangerous driving charges causing the death of five people three years ago, was the third failed prosecution of drivers working for state owned bus companies who claimed their buses had "surged", causing accidents.
Surges, also known as "voluntary or unintentional acceleration", allegedly cause buses to move forward despite no pressure being applied to the accelerator.
Earlier this year, charges against a bus driver who was involved in a crash were thrown out after the State failed to produce certain documentation including service records, safety statements and other documents concerning similar difficulties which are alleged to have affected such buses.
No one was killed when James Fowler's single decker bus mounted a pavement and hit a lamp post in Waterford two years ago, but 19 people were injured when the bus crashed, injuring passengers and people at a nearby bus stop.
The case against James Fowler, a Bus Eireann driver from Passage East, Co Cork, had been adjourned seven times and had been the subject of a disclosure order when Judge Leo Malone struck out all the charges.
The DPP had laid charges of careless driving, leaving his bus unattended while the engine was running and not being in constant attendance on the vehicle against Fowler.
But Fowler was about to argue that a power surge in the vehicle was to blame for the crash when the case was struck out.
Another Bus Eireann driver, Billy Costine, was also involved in a bus accident in Cork. But he too was cleared in November 2005 of careless driving charges after several bus drivers stated they had experienced power surges in Bus Eireann buses.
The National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU) wrote to Bus Eireann that it believed that both accidents were caused by the mystifying surges and warning that its members would refuse to drive certain buses because of the incidents.
The Irish Independent has learned that the "vast majority" of claims for damages by victims of the disastrous bus crash on Dublin's Wellington Quay on February 21, 2004, have been settled by Dublin Bus.
However, it is understood that the settlements do not include the more high-profile cases, specifically the families of four of the five people who died have not concluded their actions.
The family of Kathleen Gilton (69), from Maynooth, Co Kildare, settled their action for damages at the High Court for ?750,000 in 2005. And Dublin Bus is expected to be hit with a multi-million euro compensation payout for the remainder of the cases which have yet to be settled.
The company refused to reveal details on the cases already settled but it is likely to have already run into the millions. A Chinese woman injured in the crash is understood to have reached a settlement worth ?200,000 18 months ago.
Dublin Bus said yesterday that it has received a total of 19 claims from victims and families affected by the tragedy.
"In relation to the claims arising from the accident at Wellington Quay, Dublin Bus admitted liability for the accident and the vast majority of claims have now been settled," a spokeswoman for the company said yesterday.
"There are just a small number of claims outstanding. It would be inappropriate at this time to comment on individual claims."
The others killed were Kevin Garry (43), of Riversdale, Leixlip, Co Kildare; Margaret Traynor (59), of Tulip Court, Darndale, Dublin; Vasyl Tyminsky (33) of Kew Park, Lucan, Co Dublin, and Teresa Keatley (43) of Sillogue Avenue, Ballymun, Dublin.
Family members contacted by the Irish Independent yesterday declined to comment on the possibility or status of civil actions. The bus company added that its Board of Inquiry into the crash would be "reconvening as soon as possible".
Dearbhail McDonald and Jason O'Brien
Editorial: Tragedy on the quays