Former Leamington mayor and bus driver appears in court accused of killing pedestrian and a seven-year-old passenger

An elderly bus driver ploughed into a supermarket killing two people when he mistook the accelerator for the brake after working 75 hour long weeks, a court heard.

Wednesday, 12th September 2018, 10:05 am
Updated Wednesday, 12th September 2018, 10:08 am
Former Mayor of Leamington Spa Kailash Chander. Photo by SWNS/News Team.

Kailash Chander, 80, is accused of causing the fatal smash after ignoring warnings not to work when he was tired due to his “deteriorating standard of driving”.

The former mayor of Leamington lost control of the Stagecoach bus which smashed into a Sainsbury’s supermarket in Coventry on October 3, 2015.

Seven-year-old Rowan Fitzgerald, who was also from Leamington, was sitting on the top deck with his grandfather and was killed in the crash.

Rowan Fitzgerald. Photo by SWNS/News Team.

Dora Hancox, 76, also died after being hit by the bus and a falling lamppost as she walked past a cash machine at the supermarket.

Two more were seriously injured - including Rowan’s eight-year old cousin.

A court was told the fatal smash was caused by a “gross driver error” and “shockingly bad driving” by Chander after he had worked three consecutive 75-hour weeks.

The “experienced driver” had also ignored warnings about his standard of driving and carried on with his “demanding job” despite putting passengers at risk, jurors heard.

The Stagecoach bus that ploughed into the Sainsbury's supermarket in Coventry. Photo by SWNS/News Team.

Chander, of Leamington, was charged with two counts of causing death by dangerous driving and two counts of causing serious injury by dangerous driving.

But he was found medically unfit to stand trial and has been excused from attending a finding-of-facts trial which began at Birmingham Crown Court yesterday (Tuesday September 11).

Opening the prosecution’s case, Andrew Thomas QC said: “On the afternoon of Saturday October 3, 2015, a double-decker bus carrying many passengers crashed into the front of the Sainsbury’s supermarket in Coventry town centre.

“As it pulled off [from a bus stop], the bus immediately collided with the back of another bus, a single decker, which was waiting in front of it.

“That was a glancing blow. The double decker then continued on, accelerating to a dangerous speed for that road, at one point veering off the road and onto a grass verge.

“Pedestrians had to run to avoid being hit. The bus collided with a lamp post and several flag poles, knocking them down.

“Sadly, not all of the pedestrians were able to get out of the way. Mrs Dora Hancox, who was 76 years old, was crossing the road.

“She was struck by the double-decker bus and then struck again by the falling lamp post. She was killed by those blows.

“Even after that collision, the bus carried on. It went on to hit the front of the Sainsbury’s supermarket.

“The front of the bus was badly crushed by the collision, in particular to the top deck.

“A seven-year-old boy named Rowan Fitzgerald, who had been sat in the front seat on the top deck, was killed.

“Two other passengers, including Rowan’s eight-year-old cousin, suffered very serious injuries.

“Others had minor injuries. Many more, both passengers and pedestrians, had been put at risk of death or serious injury and were lucky to escape.

“The prosecution say that the accident was due to a gross driver error.

“The collision, and the deaths which resulted from it, were entirely the result of the dangerous way in which the bus was driven.”

Jurors were told the entire incident was caught on CCTV showing Chander losing control of the bus before it crashed into the supermarket.

Mr Thomas added: “You will see that Mr Chander was driving the bus. He was conscious. He was operating the steering wheel.

“But he was seemingly unable to control the bus properly.

“Why couldn’t Mr Chander control the bus? It appears that Mr Chander had forgotten that he had left the bus in ‘drive’ - that is, in gear - when he arrived at the stop.

“Once the bus had started to move Mr Chander held his foot on the throttle pedal instead of the brake, causing the bus to accelerate out of control.

“The only possible explanation was that he had become confused over the controls of the bus.

“He thought that his foot was on the brake, but in fact he was accelerating hard. He did not apply the brakes until some seconds after the bus had crashed and come to a halt.

“So this appears to be the case of a driver - a professional driver carrying a large number of passengers on a double-decker bus — who put his foot down on the accelerator instead of the brake.

“Instead of realising his mistake, he kept his foot down on the accelerator throughout the journey.

“The prosecution say that by any objective standard it is shockingly bad driving.

“How could he make such a basic mistake? Mr Chander was an experienced driver, but at the time of this accident he was 77 years old and well past the point of retirement.

“As you will hear, he had been warned previously about the deteriorating standard of his driving.

“He had been allowed to carry on driving but warned not to drive when he was tired. He ignored that warning.

“In each of the three weeks leading up to this collision the defendant had worked driving buses for at least 75 hours.

“Think about what that means - he was 77 years old, doing a demanding job which gives rise to a risk to public safety, and he was working back-to-back weeks of 75 hours.

“The prosecution say that that in itself was dangerous.”

The trial, which is due to last four days, continues.