UK coach driver jailed for triple-death crash near London

Thursday, November 27, 2008

A driver for the UK coach firm National Express has been jailed for five years after causing a crash last year that killed three people. Philip Rooney, 49, was in a double-decker coach near London's Heathrow Airport which rolled on January 3 last year.

The vehicle landed on its side after Rooney attempted to take a 40mph turnoff at 55mph on the M4/M25 slip road near Heathrow. He was described at Oxford Crown Court today as driving like one 'possessed', possibly in a bid to make up for lost time after a luggage issue had delayed the London-Aberdeen service's departure.

Rooney had been delayed after summoning a taxi to transport one family's luggage due to a lack of room on the crowded coach. This delayed departure by an hour and a half.

The coach, with 69 passengers on board, skidded along on its side after overturning whilst Rooney made a safety announcement over the vehicle's PA system. 76-year-old Christina Toner from Dundee and 30-year-old Chinese citizen Yi Di Lin were killed, while 78-year-old John Carruthers from Chertsey, Surrey succumbed to his injuries six months later.

Another 65 people sustained injuries, including four who had amputations as a result of their injuries and 19 who suffered fractures. "After Heathrow the driver drove like he was possessed. He kept overtaking everything and going like the clappers," said one passenger. Fire and rescue crews had to cut several victims from the wreck.

Rooney had been convicted on five previous occasions of speeding in public service vehicles during his career of fifteen years with large passenger vehicles. He was also disciplined in 2004 by National Express after he was caught tampering with a speed limiter to allow him to drive his coach faster.

Defending, Mohammed Khamisa QC said of Rooney "The events [of the day in question] have crushed him and continue to haunt him," and that he offers his "heartfelt apologies" to all victims and relatives.

Rooney pled guilty to three counts of causing death by dangerous driving. He was jailed for five years, banned from driving for three and ordered to take an extended driving test.