Level crossing crash lorry driver jailed

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The Independent Online

A driver who caused a train crash by ignoring a warning sign and driving a sewage tanker on to a level crossing was today jailed after a judge was told of a "culture of not following correct procedures".

Judge John Holt imposed a 15-month prison term and a three-year driving ban on Arvydas Bartasius after hearing how 21 people were hurt when a passenger train hit the tanker at Little Cornard, Suffolk, on August 17.

Ipswich Crown Court heard that Bartasius, a 38-year-old father of two, of Littleport, Cambridgeshire, had been driving to a sewage works near the line.

Judge Holt was told that a sign warned drivers to stop and use a trackside telephone to call a signalman and check that the line was clear.

The judge, who was told that the accident left rail firms with a £1 million bill, said Bartasius had "taken a chance", been "reckless" and caused a "horrific crash".

Gregory Perrins, representing Bartasius, told the judge that drivers using the crossing did not follow correct procedures because they had concerns about the reliability of a trackside phone-link to signallers.

He said drivers relied on a "visual check".

"It does seem there was a culture of not following correct procedures because of general concerns people had about the reliability of the phone line over to the signalman," said Mr Perrins.

"There seems to have been a culture of drivers relying on their own safety checks by a visual check up and down the line."

Mr Perrins said a health and safety inspector who visited the site on the day of the crash had made a statement in which he said he had not used the correct procedure when crossing.

Police said the 1731 National Express East Anglia service, which was carrying about 20 passengers and thought to have been travelling at between 50mph and 60mph, cut the tanker in two as it made its way from Sudbury, Suffolk to Marks Tey, Essex.

Bartasius - a Lithuanian, who worked for waste management firm JK Environmental, which has offices in Sudbury, Ipswich, Suffolk, Royston, Herts, Coventry, West Midlands and Leicester - was carrying sludge from the nearby sewage works.

One passenger had suffered "life threatening" internal injuries, police said.

Prosecutor Carolyn Gardiner said train driver Colin Hockley had "to his horror" seen the tanker move onto the line.

Mr Hockley had applied the emergency brakes then moved down the two-carriage train warning passengers to brace themselves.

Train guard Candice Ong had ignored her injuries to help passengers after the crash, said Miss Gardiner.

The judge praised the bravery of Mr Hockley and Ms Ong and awarded each £500.

Mr Hockley, who suffered a number of injuries, including damaged hearing, had made a statement telling how the crash affected him, said Miss Gardiner.

"I have a nagging feeling of not having done enough," said Mr Hockley, a father of three, in the statement. "I wake during the night and when it is quiet I go over and over in my head what happened."

He added: "I have to admit I did not believe I was going to get out of the train alive. I now have concerns if I am going to be able to continue my job as a train driver."

Passenger Alan Dickinson, a lawyer in his late 50s, was the most seriously injured victim and had spent a number of weeks in hospital, said Miss Gardiner

Passenger Lauren Couch had been trapped under a seat and the accident had left her "terrified" of using trains again, Miss Gardiner added.

Bartasius had apologised for his "mistake" in a letter to the judge, the court heard.

"I would like to say I am sorry about this terrible accident which happened as a result of my mistake," he said, in the letter.

"I would like to apologise to all the people who were affected by this devastating crash from the bottom of my heart."

He added: "I cannot put into words how sorry I am to the people who got hurt."

Bartasius had told police that he thought the telephone was for "emergency use" and said he had a "reading problem", said Miss Gardiner.

He said he had used the crossing before but "couldn't remember" using the telephone.

Miss Gardiner said Bartasius had not been "entirely honest" in his police interview.

She said he had used the crossing in June and checks on a voice recorder showed that he had, on that occasion, used the trackside telephone to make sure that the line was clear.