Sat, October 2, 2004
A FORMER OC Transpo bus driver struggled yesterday to explain to a court how on a clear summer day, driving on a straight highway he didn't see a disabled car in a bus lane in time to avoid slamming into it and killing a child inside. Testifying in his own defence against charges of criminal negligence causing death and injury, Lawrence Burt, 49, said he had been distracted by a female passenger who had asked him what time it was.
"I glanced up the road and didn't see anything," Burt said of the moments leading up to the July 13, 2003 collision on Hwy. 174. "I brought my arm up to look at my watch ... I look up from my watch and I see the back end of a car coming right at me."
VEHICLES BEHIND BUS
He said he hit the brakes and tried to see if he could swerve around the car that contained tot Chamin Appuhamy and his parents Jude and Kanchana. But there were vehicles within 150 ft. of the rear of the bus and he feared a sudden swerve would cause a chain reaction.
Burt insisted he had seen no car in the path of the bus prior to looking at his watch despite previous testimony by expert witnesses who said there should have been a clear line of sight for at least 680 metres before the Appuhamys' car.
Burt said he had glanced in the mirror a number of times at the passenger as she walked up the aisle.
Crown prosecutor Mark Moors questioned Burt's version of the order of events, confronting him with a previous statement to police which made no mention of an attempt to look for space to swerve around the Appuhamys' vehicle. In that statement, Burt had also told police he wasn't certain if he had braked before or after the collision which left Jude wheelchair-bound.
Burt, a 21-year-veteran driver for the bus company, appeared overwhelmed by Moors' rapid-fire questions in cross-examination, declaring it was difficult to put precise times on the moments leading up to the accident.
"It's a blur, everything happened so quick," he said.
"If I could undo it, I would undo it in a heartbeat."
It was the first time the Appuhamy family had heard the bus driver recount the accident in his own words.
While the family declined to comment, their civil lawyer Russ Molot said the Appuhamys were surprised by the lack of detail about what had distracted Burt leading up to the crash.
"It's difficult for them to understand how that distraction could occur," he said.
But Burt's lawyer, Lawrence Greenspon, said his client was being asked to do something very difficult and Burt had done his best. In his testimony, Burt did say he thought the silver colour of the Appuhamys' car made it look like the paved road.
"Mr. Burt made it very clear this is not something he wanted to have happen," Greenspon said. "It's a hard thing to ask somebody, 'What was it that disabled you from not seeing something?' It's a bit like asking somebody, 'How long were you unconscious?' "
Greenspon said there would be expert testimony in the days ahead about various factors that can affect reaction time and perception.