GARDAÍ INVESTIGATING the crash in Co Galway on Sunday night in which two men died and a number of students were injured have said “serious issues” have to be addressed by the inquiry team.
Supt Tony O’Donnell, in charge of the Garda operation dealing with the N17 collision, described it yesterday as a “terrible, terrible tragedy”.
“Some very serious issues arise and hopefully the investigation will address all of those issues and will be able to come to conclusions,” he said.
The two men who died in the collision shortly before 8pm near the village of Gleannafosha have been named locally as bus driver Peter Last, a Scottish man in his 60s based in south Mayo, and van driver Alan Howard (36), of Rockbarton, Salthill, Galway.
Some 27 students were on the privately-owned bus travelling from Swinford, Co Mayo, to three colleges in Limerick.
A number of the students were taken to hospital with injuries described as “not life-threatening” and later released. Mr Last lived with his German-born wife and 11-year-old daughter near Murrisk, Co Mayo, and had worked for some years with the Corduff coach transport company.
Mr Howard, a native of Carnmore, Co Galway, married last year and he and his wife and one child were based in Galway city.
Student Katie Campbell (18), from Swinford, Co Mayo, described yesterday how she was sitting three seats behind the driver on the bus, and was trying to sleep when she heard a “really loud bang”.
“I held on to the seat handle and kept my head down,” she said.
“There was glass crashing in from the windows. When the bus stopped, there was a shocked silence, then a girl across from me screamed, just for a minute though, and then there was more silence as people checked each other to see if they were all right.”
She said Mr Last was still alive and was responding to people as emergency services were called.
“There were bits of glass all over my hair and even in my socks and shoes. But some of the other students had small cuts on their faces,” she said. She described Mr Last as “great craic” and a driver that everyone “loved”.
He had been taking students back after the weekend to the University of Limerick, Limerick Institute of Technology and Mary Immaculate College, Limerick, and had stopped in Dunmore and Tuam on the route from Swinford.
Mr Last’s employer Michael Corduff paid tribute to him. “Peter has done that run, from Swinford to Ballyhaunis, Tuam to Limerick for the past 10 years.
“He had worked as a bus driver for 40 years and he was a good employee and a great ambassador for this company,” Mr Corduff said.
He was “also a great friend to all the students and they all had his mobile number and if they were running late on a Friday evening, he would always wait for them”.
Postmortems on the two men were being conducted yesterday in Galway.
Gardaí are investigating how the head-on collision occurred and focusing on whether weather conditions or other factors contributed.
Tuam-based priest Fr Stephen Farragher, who was called to the scene, paid tribute to the emergency services who had worked in very challenging weather conditions, he said.
Southerly gales were blowing at the time and heavy conditions made driving very difficult in the west.
Witnesses are asked to contact Tuam Garda station on 093-70840, the Garda confidential telephone line on 1800-666 111, or any Garda station.