A bus driver with 48 schoolchildren on board said he broke the speed limit to ensure the safety of his passengers.
Denis Doherty, of Gaddyduff, Clonmany, Co Donegal, appeared in Buncrana District Court on a charge of speeding at Tullyarvan, Buncrana on March 27, 2015.
The court heard how gardaí were carrying out a speed detection checkpoint when they clocked Mr Doherty’s bus doing 69km/h in a 50km/h zone.
Mr Doherty told the court he was forced to break the speed limit in order to avoid a serious accident.
And his explanation of events was backed up by his solicitor who compared him to the heroic pilot who ditched his plane into the Hudson River in New York to avoid an even great catastrophe.
Mr Doherty explained: “I was driving the bus, and there were a few cars ahead of me, there was a tractor with a round bale on the back of it, and it was slowing up traffic.
“There was a continuous white line on the road, but the cars in front of me decided to overtake the tractor on that stretch of road.
“That was a dangerous manoeuvre, but I’ve been driving that bus on that road for 15 years, and I knew there was a broken white line to safely overtake further up the road.
“When I overtook the traffic, the cars behind me were like sheep, they all followed me. With oncoming traffic in the other direction, I was forced to speed up in order to let the vehicles pull in safely behind me.
“If I hadn’t have done that, then there would’ve been a pile-up, my only concern was the safety of the schoolchildren on my bus, and I did what I did to ensue there would be no accident.”
But Garda Inspector Michael Harrison, the head of the Donegal Traffic Corps, said he was “flabbergasted” at the driver’s account of the events which occurred.
Insp Harrison said: “I’m absolutely flabbergasted by your evidence, I’ve never heard anything like it before.
“You could’ve slowed down after you overtook the vehicle, and pulled in and let the other cars pass, but you accelerated.”
He added: “You broke the speed limit, yet you stand here claiming it was to save lives, how can you justify your actions when you had schoolchildren on your bus? It was reckless, you broke the law.”
Solicitor for the defendant, Ray Lannon, said there were similarities between his client and Chesley Sullenberger, the pilot hailed a hero after he crash-landed the jet he was flying into the Hudson River in 2009.
Mr Lannon said it was a big call for Insp Harrison to be questioning the integrity and professionalism of his client.
“The safety of the children was paramount to my client, and he was faced with two evils, and took the lesser of those evils to ensure there wasn’t an accident.
“Seven years ago, when that pilot in the US took evasive action by crash-landing in the River Hudson, people would’ve labelled that manoeuvre as crazy and reckless. But he saved lives and he’s now hailed a hero in the US for his actions, he saved the lives of everybody on board.”
“What my client did was a necessity of circumstances, he believes that if he didn’t accelerate to let the cars behind him pull in, then there would’ve been a serious, serious pile-up.
Judge Paul Kelly adjourned the case until May 12.
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