Kyogle man escapes conviction over Moree bus crash
Yesterday, Mr Yates, 61, pleaded guilty to negligent driving, but walked away from Kyogle Local Court with the charge against him proven then dismissed under a good behaviour bond by a magistrate impressed by his otherwise blameless traffic record.
The cause of the crash remains a mystery.
Mr Yates was driving the Scania tourist coach loaded with Toowoomba State High School students and teachers on their way home from the snowfields and Canberra when it ran off the road north of
Moree at 5.30am on July 5 last year.
Yesterday, Mr Yates told Magistrate Jeff Linden he did not know what caused the coach to go out of control, but there had been a loud bang.
He had asked NSW police to investigate whether he had hit something like a kangaroo at the time.
Mr Yates said he did not pause to wonder what had happened and focused entirely on keeping the bus from rolling and seriously hurting his young passengers.
Mr Yates said he had been driving 44 years, averaging about 150,000km a year, and had never had so much as a speeding ticket.
Mr Linden found that while Mr Yates had driven buses with tourists for years and did not know how the crash occurred, there had been a loss of control.
“He has been driving for many years and it is an amazingly good history,” the magistrate said, before finding the charge proven then dismissing the matter.
At the time of the crash the students were returning from what had already become the holiday from hell. About 20 of the students had a bad dose of food poisoning, and an outbreak of vomiting and diarrhoea during the return trip meant the coach had to make frequent stops.
Twelve of the passengers were treated for injuries at Moree Base Hospital after the crash and were released the same day. One student suffered spinal fractures and was flown out by helicopter.
Students were also given shots to stop the gastroenteritis, with some put on drips to stop the dehydration before being released.
Speaking outside court, Mr Yates said he suspected a front left-side airbag might have deflated at the time because its (protective) metal plate was cracked.
“I knew I had to just keep this thing (coach) upright and I did,” he said. “You don’t brake. I just steered and tried to keep it steady.
“I was thinking to go as straight as I can and just ride it threw.
“Whatever caused the accident we avoided serious injury and I’m grateful for that.”