Hen party minibus ‘shunted 50yds down M62 by lorry on cruise control’

Kevin Ollerhead at Leeds Crown Court. Picture: Ross Parry Agency
Kevin Ollerhead at Leeds Crown Court. Picture: Ross Parry Agency

A driver ploughed into the back of a minibus on the M62, shunting it 50 yards along the road and causing the death of an 18-year-old woman on board, while his lorry was on cruise control, a court heard.

Bethany Jones was among a group of 20 women travelling to a hen party in Liverpool when their coach - travelling at less than 6mph and with a badly burnt-out clutch - was hit on the M62 in West Yorkshire by an articulated vehicle driven by Kevin Ollerhead, Leeds Crown Court heard.

Ollerhead, 45, of Lincoln Crescent, St Helens, Merseyside, went on trial charged with causing death by dangerous driving.

Prosecutor Bryan Cox QC said the collision happened on April 26 last year after the 24-seater coach suffered mechanical problems and came to a “near standstill” on the motorway.

Other vehicles avoided colliding with the coach but Ollerhead, who was driving the lorry on a cruise control set to 52mph, drove straight into the back of the bus, shunting it 50 yards along the road and into a crash barrier.

Miss Jones died after suffering multiple injuries. All of the other passengers on the coach, who were from the Pontefract area, were injured, some severely.

Mr Cox said: “The trip was a pre-arranged hen party and it was arranged to celebrate the coming marriage of one of the passengers, Stefanie Firth. Their journey was, in fact, ended abruptly in a tragic collision.”

The coach driver, James Johnson, 64, of Whytecote End, Wyke, Bradford, pleaded guilty to causing Miss Jones’s death by dangerous driving at an earlier hearing, the jury heard.

But Mr Cox said Ollerhead was also to blame for the young woman’s death.

He said: “James Johnson, the coach driver, has pleaded guilty to causing death by dangerous driving. Indeed, the prosecution submit his driving was a substantial cause of the accident but it was not the sole cause.

“An additional and significant cause of the accident was Kevin Ollerhead’s driving, which, submit the prosecution, fell far short, far below, the standard to be expected of a competent and careful driver.

“He too is guilty of causing death by dangerous driving and he too bears some responsibility for what occurred.”

The prosecutor told the court the coach left South Elmsall, near Pontefract, at 11.06am and the passengers very quickly became aware of signs of mechanical failure, including a smell of burning, and asked Johnson to stop the vehicle.

Johnson did stop the coach, which had a badly burnt-out clutch, and made a brief examination but said he could not find a problem and continued the journey.

The speed of the coach gradually reduced to a “snail’s pace” until it was travelling at just 5.5mph in the nearside lane of the M62, just after junction 32, near Pontefract.

Mr Cox said the coach posed a danger to other road users and passengers recalled other vehicles sounding their horns.

He said: “A number of vehicles avoided it by steering into the middle lane. Kevin Ollerhead did not. He was driving his DAF on its limiter at a constant speed of 52mph and he drove the truck straight into the rear of the coach, thereby propelling the coach some 45 metres into the distance and into a barrier.”

The court heard that Ollerhead would have had a clear view of the coach for 6.6 seconds and 154 metres but there was no evidence that he applied his brakes before the point of impact.

Mr Cox said: “For a period of 6.6 seconds when the coach was fully in view the defendant simply failed to act to avoid a collision.”

The prosecutor described the impact as being “to all intents and purposes a head-on collision”. The coach was left lying on its side across the exit sliproad.

The jury was told that Ollerhead gave a statement to police in which he said he could not recall braking or steering but there was nothing he could have done to avoid the collision.

Ollerhead denies causing death by dangerous driving.

The trial continues.