How do you get over something like this ...
Published: August 5, 2008
Updated: August 8, 2008
My brother Maurice has been a bus driver for over thirty years, eleven in Birmingham City, England, and the rest with tour companies in Ireland. He now works for Bus Eireann, the Irish National bus company.
He's a very careful and considerate driver - his motto is: get there in one piece - and in all that time he never had a single accident.
Until 8pm Monday June 9th. In just seven horrific seconds all that changed dramatically.
He'd dropped his last passenger off in Killarney and was making his way back to Tralee. The evening was bright and warm, and the traffic was fairly light.
His shift didn't finish for another hour, so he was in no hurry.He was bimbling along at just over 50mph when, for some unknown reason, he suddenly became conscious of a Fiat Punto approaching on the opposite side of the road.
There were other cars on the road too, but instinctively he felt that there was something not quiet right about this one.
And he began to react. He started to slow down, then everything took on a strange, eerie slow-motion effect. He remembers clearly every little detail of that car, right down to the number on the licence plate, and even the fact that it was a hire car! Most horrific of all, the driver's head was down, as if she was distracted by something. And she was coming across the carriageway, straight at him.
He was standing on the brake now, his hand on the horn, but there was no reaction at all from the driver of the Fiat. In horrific detail, he relives the moment of impact every minute of the day since then - the grating howl of the metal, the Fiat's engine exploding and flying up into the air like a burning missile, up over the roof of the bus, missing the windscreen by inches. The airbag in the Fiat activated, but a small car had no chance against a three ton bus.
Maurice's natural reaction was to swerve to the left, and the bus crashed through the hedges into a field, colliding with a tree so hard that a branch came up through the floor and disintegrated the brake pedal.
Maurice doesn't know how he got out of the bus. He thinks he crawled to the emergency door at the back and dropped the ten feet to the ground. His only concern at that time was for the lady in the Fiat. He scrambled out of the field and ran to the wreckage, which was now turned around and facing the wrong way. But he knew as soon as he caught hold of the door handle that it was too late.
By now people had come running out of nearby houses, and cars had stopped, their occupants all running to help. Ond driver was an off-duty garda officer (Garda are the Irish police) and Maurice can't praise him enough for the way he took charge, the professional way he dealt with the whole incident.
Maurice got on his mobile phone to tell his wife that he was alright, then everything went black and when he came round again he was strapped into a stretcher in the back of an Ambulance.
Amazingly, although Maurice is bruised all over his body, he didn't sustain any broken bones. But the shock was absolutely devastating. Even with perscribed medication he can't sleep, and he's reliving every moment of it. Just talking about it, he's liable to start getting emotional and burst into tears. It's very hard for all the family to see someone cry like that.
The lady in the Fiat was from New Mexico, USA and had flown into Ireland to visit relatives in Sneem, Co Kerry. She was driving a hire car. Maurice's wife is from Maryland, USA, so he has a great fondness for Americans. But no matter where she came from, he was still devestated that, in his first accident in his driving career, someone died.
We talk to him every day, and the house is full of family and friends who give him such amazing support. The Accident Bureau have confirmed that he was totally blameless - they don't know yet why the lady didn't react at all during the whole episode - but he still feels responsible, and extreemly sad for the family of the victim.
And the Accident Bureau have established - don't ask me how - that from the moment Maurice became aware that something was wrong with the Fiat to the moment of impact was just seven seconds ...