SUSSEX, N.B. — An inquest into why a bus hurtled off a sharp turn at a Sussex ramp is expected to bring back driver error results rather than inadequate signage.
Early morning, Apr. 27, 2001, a chartered tour bus was carrying 42 schoolchildren from a Newton, Mass., middle school to perform at a band concert in Halifax when it hurtled off a sharp turn at a Sussex intersection and landed on its side in a field, killing four children.
Dianne Kelly, New Brunswick’s chief coroner, announced the inquest into the bus tragedy will be held Oct. 7-11 in Sussex.
“The facts need to be aired,” says Kelly. “The public has a right to know what happened … and there are issues we need to look at from a prevention perspective.”
An investigator who worked on the accident report says that despite concerns about the safety of the intersection and the adequacy of signs leading to the turn where the bus crashed, the findings are straight forward – driver error.
“You’re not going to find any problem with signs,” he says. “You’re going to find it was the high speed and you’re going to find the guy didn’t know where he was going.”
Witnesses have confirmed speed was a factor.
A truck driver who saw the bus lose control said it was “screaming” around the hairpin turn on the exit when its tires left the pavement, sank in the soft dirt of the shoulder and pulled the bus over.
It’s also clear the last-minute replacement driver was on the wrong exit. The bus crashed on the turn to Fredericton. It should have been on the exit for Moncton, en route to Halifax.
There also have been questions about the safety of the ramp.
Darrell Mook, a U.S. lawyer representing the bus driver says he believes his client wasn’t responsible for the tragedy.
The driver did acknowledge missing the turn, but Mook says lack of forewarning signs, the pre-dawn darkness and other lighting conditions diminished the driver’s ability to stop the bus in time.
At least two lights at the intersection weren’t working when the accident happened.
The New Brunswick government recently installed rumble strips on the stretch of road leading to the intersection to make it safer and plans to eliminate the interchange by 2004 as part of a scheduled series of highway improvements.
The bus driver was charged under New Brunswick’s Motor Vehicle Act with careless driving, but it was not a charge for which he could be extradited.
As a result, the legal case in New Brunswick is stuck in limbo.
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