A 46-year-old man was fighting for his life last night after a stolen ambulance he was driving crashed head-first into a schoolbus.
A garda spokesman said that if it had been a short time later, “there would have been school children on the bus”.
The events unfolded after the ambulance and a crew of two paramedics arrived with a patient at the Emergency Department of Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital at lunchtime.
One of the paramedics had brought the patient into the department and the second paramedic was in the rear of the ambulance.
Its doors were open and its rear platform was partially lowered when the vehicle suddenly began to move.
It is believed the keys were taken from where they were lying in the front of the vehicle.
The paramedic in the back jumped to safety and was uninjured.
Hospital sources last night said that the man had been brought to hospital by ambulance on Thursday complaining of headaches and was on a trolley in the emergency department when he decided to leave.
Gardai were alerted to the vehicle being taken and were told that it had been driven off in the direction of the Ballymakenny Road, Drogheda, which is less than 1km from the hospital.
Garda Inspector Brendan Cadden said: “A motorist reported that the ambulance was on the Ballymakenny road with its back doors open.”
Gardai in a patrol van saw the ambulance on the Ballymakenny road and followed it “at a distance”.
“The blue lights were activated and the gardai witnessed the collision,” added Inspector Cadden.
The fire brigade and the ambulance service arrived quickly.
Inspector Cadden confirmed that the bus, operated by local company Carroll’s, was travelling away from the town centre and towards Aston Village Educate Together primary school.
The ambulance appears to have been driven away from the town and to have made a U-turn before driving back up the Ballymakenny road towards the town when it hit a speed ramp and lost control.
Firefighters from Drogheda used cutting equipment to free the driver of the ambulance and he was removed by ambulance to Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital. Hospital sources last night said he was in intensive care.
The driver of the bus was said to have minor cuts.
Dad of two John Branigan, who lives at Shamrock Villas near the crash, said: “This road is notorious for people speeding.”
The road remained closed until 5.30pm yesterday to allow for the vehicles and the scene to be technically examined.
In a separate development, a manhunt has been launched for a 16-year-old prisoner who escaped from the hospital in Drogheda yesterday.
The prisoner, who is a detainee at the Trinity House Centre, is already considered a “career criminal” and has been logged by gardai for involvement in crime on over 180 occasions.
He was being treated at the hospital yesterday morning when he escaped. He was still at large last night.