Montague Street bridge crash bus driver failed to see warning signs, Melbourne court hears
A Ballarat bus driver was “confused” and had failed to see numerous warning signs before he drove his vehicle into a notorious South Melbourne bridge, injuring six passengers, a Melbourne court has heard.
- Plea hearing underway after jury in October found Jack Aston guilty of negligently causing serious injury
- Aston’s employer Gold Bus said the company had let the driver down and apologised to injured passengers
- After the accident, an overhead warning system was installed at the bridge, which has seen several crashes
Jack Liam Aston, 55, was in a new job with Gold Bus on February 22, 2016 when the bus he was driving struck the Montague Street bridge, which had a 3-metre clearance.
A plea hearing is underway in the County Court of Victoria after a jury in October found Aston guilty of six charges of negligently causing serious injury.
Aston, an experienced driver who was driving a charter from Ballarat for Gold Bus, had dropped off guests at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre and was taking other guests to a hotel on St Kilda Road when the crash occurred.
The bus was travelling at 56 kph when it struck the bridge.
“Mr Aston failed to see any of the warning signs and the bridge,” prosecutor Robert Barry told the court.
During the jury trial, the court heard Aston was “confused [and] overwhelmed because he was unfamiliar with the area”, Mr Barry said.
The judge said Aston’s inattention to signage was contrary to his duties as a driver. (Twitter: Metropolitan Fire Brigade)
Judge Bill Stuart said it was “concerning” that Aston did not notice signs warning him of the bridge in the 48 seconds it took him to drive less than 300 metres from a traffic intersection on Munro Street to the bridge.
“For such a long period of time … to not see the signage applicable to him and his vehicle is concerning,” Judge Stuart said.
The judge also remarked on how low the bridge was.
“Perhaps that is why there are so many collisions with this unexpectedly low bridge,” he said.
But Prosecutor Barry said 99 per cent of large vehicles turned off before the bridge.
Aston’s defence lawyer, Richard Edney, spoke of the “history of a bridge that is so damning and so extensive” that meant there were “lurking dangers” for drivers in that area.
“It is a bridge built in the 19th century trying to do work in the commercial, industrial world of the 21st century,” he said.
Mr Edney was also critical of the road design.
Since the crash, the City of Melbourne has installed rubber flaps on an overhead gantry to warn drivers of the bridge’s low clearance. (Twitter: Metropolitan Fire Brigade)
Donald McKenzie, the founder of Gold Bus, gave evidence in support of Aston.
“He was let down by the company,” Mr McKenzie said.
“I’d like to apologise on behalf of the company to the six passengers who were injured.
“I’d also like to apologise to Jack and his family who have been put through the mill.”
The court heard that a passenger seated behind Aston had seen the signs and had seen the bridge.
Aston’s defence lawyer, Richard Edney, argued Aston’s sight was blocked by a sun visor and that the visor might not have affected the sightline of others who were seated in an elevated position on the bus.
Judge Stuart acknowledged Aston’s “excellent background” and that he was “meticulous in his approach to his duties”.
But he questioned the “extraordinarily long period of inattention to the roadway and the signage which is inexplicable and contrary to his duties as a driver, and criminally so”.
A few months after the accident, the City of Melbourne installed an overhead warning system at the bridge, which has been the scene of several crashes.
The plea hearing continues.