Former owner of bus didn’t see need to mention previous problems - Circuit Criminal Court told

The former owner of a school bus involved in a fatal crash has told a court that he didn’t see any reason to mention previous problems with a rear spring when he sold the bus on.

During the crash on April 6, 2006 the bus flipped over after the rear axle came off. School boy Michael White (15 ) died after suffering “catastrophic injuries”.

Westmeath vehicle testers O’Reilly Commercials Ltd and Offaly bus operators Raymond and Ruairi McKeown have pleaded not guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to charges relating to the testing and maintenance of the 1989 Mercedes bus.

James Gaffey told Caroline Biggs SC, prosecuting, that he purchased the bus in 2002 and that a year later a back wheel spring broke.

He said: “The bus was lower on the driver’s side and there was a clipping noise. It didn’t feel any different to drive.” He said he finished doing that day’s school run and brought the bus to a mechanic, David Fox.

He said the right hand spring was replaced with a second hand one and the bus was back on the road three weeks later.

In August 2005 he had the bus tested by O’Reilly Commercials Ltd of Ballinalack, Mullingar, Co Westmeath and received a certificate of road worthiness (CRW ) for the bus. A few weeks later he sold the bus on to the McKeowns who own Clara Cabs and live at River Street, Clara.

Kenneth Fogarty SC, defending Raymond McKeown asked Mr Gaffey if it had crossed his mind to tell Mr McKeown that the spring had broken in 2002. The witness replied: “I didn’t see any reason when it didn’t give any more trouble”.

He agreed with counsel that it would been a good idea in hindsight to mention that he had replaced the right side spring but not the left side one.

He said that when Mr Fox replaced the broken spring in 2002 he examined the left side spring and he couldn't see any damage.

Paul Greene SC, defending Ruairi McKeown, put it to Mr Gaffey that his business had dwindled by 2005 and that he was anxious to sell off this bus.

He said: “You were so anxious that you handed it over on a trial basis for a few weeks without any money exchanging hands”.

Mr Gaffey replied that he hadn’t advertised the bus and that Mr McKeown had come to him looking to buy it.

The court heard that when Mr Gaffey went to O’Reilly Commercials in August 2005 he was first told the vehicle couldn't be tested because the under side of the chassis needed to be cleaned.

Counsel asked Mr Gaffey why he didn't go back to Mr Fox who had previously serviced the van.

Mr Greene said: “When you were turned away by a business that you had never dealt with before, it didn't occur to you to go back to Mr Fox to get the certificate?”

Mr Gaffey said that he had already approached O’Reilly Commercials and he decided he would stay with them. He said this bus was the only vehicle he had brought to O’Reilly Commercials.

Raymond and Ruairi McKeown pleaded not guilty to six counts with failing to maintain the 1989 Mercedes bus, two of which relate to the death of the school boy on April 4, 2006.

David O’Reilly, acting on behalf of O’Reilly Commercials Ltd has pleaded not guilty to four charges relating to failing to note or verify defects when they tested the 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 trial continues before Judge Margaret Heneghan and a jury of 10 men and two women.

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