‘Shocking’ overtaking of school bus by lorry driver

A lorry driver, with a large load of logs and a trailer attached, who tailgated a bus — carrying 20 school children — dangerously overtook the bus while was there was oncoming traffic, and then cut directly in front of the bus, causing the bus to swerve onto the hard shoulder, was disqualified from driving by Judge Mary Devins at Castlebar District Court on Wednesday for the incident which she described as “so shocking”.

Inspector Mick Murray told the court that a complaint was made to gardaí on June 18 2008 by a bus driver who was intimidated by the driving of Noel Barrett, 54 Knocklyre, Ballina, while driving on the N5 from the direction of Ballyvary to Castlebar.

Lena Donnellan, the driver of the bus, said that around 5pm that day while driving schoolchildren, some parents, and teachers from a school trip at the Céide Fields to Castlebar and then back to Headford, she observed a large lorry behind her at Straide on the N59. As the bus turned onto the N5 the lorry tailgated their bus, which made Ms Donnellan feel uneasy as Barrett was driving so close behind her, about one metre behind. Ms Donnellan said she heard one of the parents suggest she put on the hazard lights, which she did. The lorry, which was positioned halfway on the right hand side of the road, then overtook even though there was oncoming traffic. The lorry then cut directly in front of her, forcing the bus onto the hard shoulder.

Defending solicitor Dermot Hewson said that his client said that Ms Donnellan was travelling at 35 to 40 miles, however, Ms Donnellan said that she has a tachograph to prove the speed which she was going at, this was presented to court and showed 80kph.

Principal of the school, Ann Walsh, said that she noticed the children, who were seatbelted, looking back commenting that the lorry was so close. Ms Walsh described the overtaking as “shocking” and said she though the lorry was going to hit the side of the bus as he was so close.

One of the parents on the bus, Ms Helena Corbett, said that she reached to get a pen from her bag to take down the number plate, however all of the sudden the bus swerved and she saw that the lorry was cutting in front of them. Ms Corbett also said that the oncoming traffic beeped at the defendant after he performed this dangerous manoeuvre.

In a statement taken from Barrett on July 21, which was read out in court, Barrett said that he was driving from Ballina to sawmills in Co Galway. He said that the white bus in front of him was travelling slower that the 100kph speed limit and that after the hazard lights of the bus went on the bus pulled onto the hard shoulder and he overtook.

Barrett told the court that he has been driving such a vehicle for 14 years and that he did not overtake on a continuous white line and there was no oncoming traffic when he started to overtake. The defendant said that he would “never put myself in that kind of jeopardy”, and asked how could he be tailgating when there was only point seven of a mile between Ballyvary bridge and where he overtook. Barrett also said that traffic was building up behind him, to which Judge Devins asked why did he not pull in and allow the other vehicles to overtake him?

Judge Devins said that she has personal knowledge of the location and “that you simply can’t overtake” on that stretch of the road. The judge said that the case was proven beyond reasonable doubt. Judge Devins said that the lorry driver was “either in complete or utter denial” or simply feels that he can bullldoze/bully his way through court like the way he did to the school bus.

The single man, with no dependants, and who has no previous convictions, was convicted and fined €750 and disqualified for the mandatory two years and further disqualified until he obtain a certificate of competence. He was also ordered to pay witness expenses of €180. Recognisnances were fixed.


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