Garage director expresses regret at bus crash court hearing

The director of the garage that serviced the school bus involved in a fatal collision which killed five Meath schoolgirls has expressed the company’s deep regret and remorse for it’s deficient system at the time.

The director of the garage that serviced the school bus involved in a fatal collision which killed five Meath schoolgirls has expressed the company’s deep regret and remorse for its deficient system at the time.

Sonya Kelly, who is also the company secretary of Keltank Ltd, a family run business with 11 employees, broke down in tears when asked by defence counsel Mr Derek C Kenneally SC if she wished to add anything at the end of her evidence.

She then agreed with counsel that on behalf of herself, her family and the employees of Keltank she wanted to express their deep regret and remorse for failing to get assistance or advice when it was noticed that the ABS was not working on the bus.

"We are completely devastated for the families and the five girls," she said earlier during her testimony.

Ms Kelly agreed with Mr Kenneally that the system they had in place at the garage at the time was deficient and that the mechanics and directors were unaware of the significance of the disconnected ABS cables that they noted during the servicing of the vehicle.

She said that at the time there was no facilities in Keltank to repair, service or maintain ABS but said that they have since invested in diagnostic tools that will allow this and have also inserted into employees contracts that they must bring "anything unusual" that they notice during the servicing of a vehicle to the attention of the directors.

Ms Kelly said that a checklist for mechanics servicing vehicles in Keltank now includes the instruction "to check the ABS" and the managing director, Conor Kelly carries out regular spot checks to ensure the work is carried out properly.

Ms Kelly was giving evidence in the sentencing hearing before Judge Patrick McCartan of Bus Éireann, Meath County Council and Keltank Ltd, following an investigation into the accident which occurred on May 23, 2005.

Both Bus Éireann and Meath County Council pleaded guilty at Trim Circuit Criminal Court two years ago to charges arising from the fatal collision and Keltank Ltd pleaded guilty on day four of its trial last week at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to one charge in relation to the matter.

Another company, McArdles Test Centre Ltd of Dundalk, was acquitted of a charge against it by direction of Judge McCartan at the conclusion of the trial.

Ms Kelly had pleaded guilty on behalf of Keltank that being aware that ABS sensor leads were disconnected in the fatal bus, it failed to ascertain whether a hazard arose as a consequence thereof before returning it to the driver, Mr Hubble, on May 5, 2005.

Ms Kelly told Mr Kenneally that Keltank received a docking list from Bus Éireann which outlined the items they wanted serviced on the vehicles. She said there was never any reference to ABS on these documents.

Ms Kelly said that her father John, had founded Keltank in 1983 and that in 1986 the company started servicing buses for Bus Éireann.

The contract later represented 75% of the company’s annual turnover but on December 22, 2006 Ms Kelly received a phone call from the bus company to inform her that they would no longer use the garage's service.

The loss of this business meant that Keltank had an overall loss at last year end of €165,000. They had made a net profit of €78,000 the previous year.

Ms Kelly agreed with Mr Kenneally that Keltank is still solvent and the loss was covered by maintained profits built up over the previous years.

She said however that she is expecting a similar loss this year and she would be concerned for this business should this happen.

Ms Kelly told Mr Brendan Grehan SC, prosecuting, that a wages figure of €307,420 from the company’s accounts includes directors’ wages who are employees of the company.

When asked if there was any reason why Keltank had not sought advice in relation to the disconnected ABS cables they spotted during the servicing of the vehicle, Ms Kelly replied that Bus Éireann never asked them to check the ABS and they did not have the tools to test it.

She agreed with Mr Shane Murphy SC, defending Bus Éireann, that his client had requested Keltank check the warning lights on the dashboard, which included a warning light to indicate if there was a fault with the ABS.

The hearing continues before Judge McCartan who has been given temporary jurisdiction over the Eastern Criminal Circuit to deal with the case.

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