A SCHOOL bus driver who crashed his double-decker into a low bridge, slicing its roof off and injuring children, has escaped with a 12-month driving ban and an £80 fine.
Angry parents today criticised the punishment handed to Wayne Oliver, aged 38, for smashing his bus into a railway bridge on Whittington Road, Barrow Hill, Chesterfield, as terrified pupils screamed and dived for cover.
Twisted metal and broken glass littered the road after the horrifying incident, and 18 youngsters, many from Sheffield, were taken to hospital to be treated for injuries including cuts and broken teeth.
Chesterfield magistrates heard Oliver had never driven a double decker along the 144 route before.
He claimed he had been told that was the correct route by other depot staff.
But workers denied to police that he had asked about the route before setting off on his journey to St Mary’s Roman Catholic High School in Upper Newbold.
A 13.3ft height sign was displayed on the bridge, and a notice inside the double-decker read ‘Bus must not operate between Barrow Hill and New Whittington due to bridge’.
The schoolchildren’s lives were saved when 12-year-old Mitchum Bates, and James Coakley, 11, shouted ‘duck’ when they realised the bus was hurtling towards the bridge. The pupils had just seconds to shield their heads with their hands.
James’ mum Sarah Coakley, 42, told The Star she was ‘shocked’ at the leniency of the TM Travel bus driver’s sentence, and called for TM Travel, based in Halfway, Sheffield, to face action.
“I can understand that we all make human errors and I don’t know the full story behind what happened - but I would have expected a harsher sentence,” she said.
“I was on the scene minutes after the crash and it is amazing that nobody was killed. The roof was totally ripped off the bus - it was a shocking sight.
“TM Travel have not so much as written a letter to the parents with children on the bus or answered any of our calls and I don’t know if they are facing any action over this but they deserve to.”
And Mitchum’s mum Caroline Bates said she was ‘absolutely disgusted’, adding: “It’s not something the children will ever forget. It could have been fatal. Mitchum’s still got a fear of double-decker buses and travelling under bridges.”
Juna Lucas, 41, whose 13-year-old daughter Alisha Bailey was also travelling on the bus, said the sentence wasn’t enough. Alisha suffered cuts to her nose and forehead.
“My daughter’s going to carry a scar with her for the rest of her life, but he can put this behind him by paying the fine and completing the ban,” said Juna, from Mosborough.
Sean Malone, 44, of Eckington, whose daughter Phoebe, 13 and son Joseph, 12, were on board the bus, branded the driver’s sentence ‘ridiculous’. He said the youngsters are still undergoing physiotherapy for whiplash.
He said said: “My children were absolutely traumatised at what they went through - they still have trouble now, especially Phoebe who still cowers down when we approach bridges. It really affected them.”
The court heard no defects were found on the bus and that rumours Oliver was speeding were ‘completely unfounded’.
Oliver, of Laughton Road, Dinnington, who admitted driving without due care and attention, sent a letter to the court saying he was sorry and deeply regretted the incident, which happened on March 15.
He was disqualified for 12 months and fined £80 with £35 costs and a £15 victim surcharge.
Deputy district judge David Goodman said: “I have to deal with the matter of carelessness, not consequences. If I was dealing with the matter of consequences you would probably go to prison.”