Fine for bus driver who effectively sheared top off double decker in bridge collision
Posted on 21st February 2023 at 19:44
A bus driver who struck a rail bridge, effectively shearing the top off a double decker bus, has been handed a fine.
Francis Leonard (60) was driving a double decker bus taking 17 passengers, including 15 school children and two teachers, to a sports game when the vehicle struck the bridge at Moyne Road, Baldoyle, on March 7th, 2022. Nobody was injured in the collision.
Leonard, of St Catherine’s Crescent, Rush, Co. Dublin pleaded guilty to one count of driving a vehicle under a structure, namely a rail bridge, where the height of the vehicle exceeded the height of the bridge, which was indicated by traffic signs.
Judge Orla Crowe said on Tuesday that this was a “very unusual case”. She said the court would order the deferral of a three-month prison sentence and give Leonard the benefit of the Probation Act so long as he complies with a number of conditions before the case is finalised later this year.
She imposed a €500 fine, ordered Leonard to keep the peace and not come to any negative garda attention, especially in relation to road traffic offences.
Judge Crowe noted none of the passengers were injured in the incident. She said while there was extensive damage to the bus and its top was effectively sheared off, there was no significant damage to the bridge.
Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard that Leonard stepped in at short notice to drive the bus. It was envisioned that he would drive a single deck bus but he was asked to take a double decker bus instead.
Leonard intended to follow another route, which would have taken the bus over the bridge. However, due to roadworks, he had to change the route while driving.
There was a yield system in operation and Leonard stopped the bus to allow a car to pass. The bus was travelling at low speed when it struck the bridge.
Damage was caused to the top of the bus. No one was sitting upstairs in the bus at the time and no injuries were reported. An inspection of the bridge identified minor chipping and scraping, but no structural damage. Photos were handed to the court.
The bridge has 3.85m (12ft 8in) of clearance while the bus was 4.35m (14ft 3in) in height. There were three signs stating the bridge’s height on the road in advance of the bridge.
Leonard contacted gardaí and Irish Rail. He handed over all his documents, including driving licence to gardaí, and they were in order. The defendant has no previous convictions and has not come to Garda attention since this incident.
The investigating garda agreed with Karl Monahan BL, defending, that Leonard stopped the bus and inspected it following the bridge strike. He then moved the vehicle to a nearby yard, where it wouldn’t cause an obstruction.
The investigating garda agreed with defence counsel that Leonard was breathalysed at the scene, and was clear.
Mr Monahan told the court that the bus company is a family business and the defendant would help out from time to time. Leonard has been a bus driver for 43 years, mainly of single deck buses, and has never had an incident.
Defence counsel said Leonard was asked to step in on the day in question to replace another driver. His client intended to follow another route, but he had to change this while driving, due to roadworks.
Mr Monahan said Leonard is accustomed to driving single deck buses and the height of the double decker bus didn’t register with him. His client stopped immediately after the incident as his primary concern was for the passengers.
Defence counsel said this was a “lapse of judgement” on his client’s part, for which he is apologetic. Leonard was “distraught” following this incident, defence counsel said, adding that his client suffered with stress and anxiety afterwards.
His client is a father of two adult children and his wife was in court to support him. A number of references were handed to the court on his behalf.
Leonard has a long work history and is employed as an aircraft maintenance engineer. Mr Monahan said his client is concerned about the impact of a conviction on his employment and asked the court to consider giving him the benefit of the Probation Act, which would leave him without a criminal record.
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