UPDATED: Driver and four directors plead not guilty to causing the death of two passengers in double-decker bus accident

A driver and four directors of the company City Sightseeing Malta have pleaded not guilty to the charge of involuntarily causing the death of two passengers in a double decker bus accident which took place three years ago.

They are also being accused of causing grievous injuries to eight people and slight injuries to 13 other people, as a result of negligence.

The double decker bus being driven by Charles D’Amato, 27, had crashed into a tree on 9 April 2018 in Triq il-Belt Valletta in Zurrieq.

The four directors who are facing charges along with the driver are Lee Anne Borg, 37, Kim Degabriele, 40, Noel Degabriele, 24 and Philip Degabriele, 32.

Supt Johan Fenech testifies

In his testimony, Supt Johan Fenech said that on that day, he was informed that a serious traffic accident had taken place in Triq il-Belt, Zurrieq.  he said that when he arrived on site he saw a scene which he had never seen before in his life. He said that there was a double decker bus parked in the lane in the direction of Valletta. He explained that the double decker was badly damaged on the left hand side, and was dripping with blood.

He said that doctors, nurses and members of the Civil Protection Department were on the scene assisting several of the injured people who were on the top deck. Supt Fenech said that he boarded the bus and went upstairs. He said that he saw the top railing twisted backwards towards the back end of the bus and two dead bodies, one was a Spanish woman who had suffered a very severe impact to her face, in fact the socket of her right eye was bulging out while the other deceased person was a Belgian man whose left arm was missing. He was wearing a camera around his neck.

He explained that from the investigation he carried out he found that the top part of the double decker bus had collided heavily into a tree on the pavement. He said that he went down and saw that the trunk of the tree was scratched and there was paint on it which matched the paint from the bus.

He added that he saw broken glass, branches, trees and the severed arm of the Belgian man. Further down he spotted the mobile phone belonging to the Belgian man. No break marks could be seen.

He said that the bus driver was identified as Charles D’Amato, who was traumatised by what happened. When he was given a breathalyser test, the result was negative. His blood and urine samples were also taken at Mater Dei.

On board the bus there were 54 passengers, all of foreign nationality. He explained that 19 of the passengers were taken to the Paola health centre, 33 were taken to Mater Dei, four of whom were in grievous condition while two were already dead. He said that during the inquiry, most of the passengers said they had not noted any reckless driving by the driver. However, three said that they noticed the driver was speeding because they could feel the wind on their face.

The witness said that the driver was licenced to drive the bus and everything was in order, including the insurance. He added that an autopsy was carried out on 11 April, 2018 which showed that the cause of death was due to multiple injuries due to a motor vehicle accident (MVA).

With reference to the cameras in the area, Supt Fenech said that JB Tyres Valletta Road had cameras but they were fake and that the cameras near Mangion did not capture the dynamics of the accident.

Controversy over trees in Triq Valletta

Speaking about the controversy which arose over the trees in Triq Valletta, Supt Fenech said he had appointed an expert especially to analyse the tree. He said that a few days before the accident, Malta had experienced strong winds, however the expert said that it does not appear that the tree had been affected.

The expert explained that the branch which was involved in the collision was very thick and the wind had not affected it, but that the branch had now been weakened and should be cut off. He added that while it was true that the branch was protruding slightly, in order to hit it one would need to be driving extremely close to the pavement.

In his testimony, Supt Fenech added that the first attempt to interrogate the driver was on 10 April 2018 at the Zejtun Police station. He was accompanied by two lawyers. However, he was not in a good enough state to be questioned and in fact the next day he went back into hospital for psychiatric care.

He explained that during their training, Mr Degabriele had said that new drivers are first sent out with more experienced drivers and then they are sent out on their own. The camera on board the double decker is only there for the purpose of live filming so that the driver will know what is happening on the upper deck. As for the route, this was the South route imposed on them by Transport Malta.

He added that Charles D’Amato was interrogated again after the psychiatrist testified that he was in a fit state to be questioned. Asked whether he was under the influence of alcohol or drugs, he said no, however on the day of the accident he was ordered to pass through Triq Valletta Zurrieq instead of Siggiewi after someone called him to pass from there because there had been an accident. However, the Supt said that when the Police tried to confirm this with the other person, the latter denied what the driver said and claimed it was not true.

The Supt was then transferred to the Anti-Drug Squad in July of the same year. He gave a handover to Supt Josric Mifsud and passed the file on to the Assistant Commissioner.

Former PS Lambert Zammit, who was stationed at Birzebbugia Police station, testifies

In his testimony, Lambert Zammit said that on the day of the accident he was the Police Sergeant on duty at the station and was called to the accident to write a report. He described how he saw a double decker bus which had crashed into a tree, he asked for the driver but he could not be found. He said that he walked around the area, and found him at a quarry a short distance away from the accident. He took his details and afterwards went to take down the details of those passengers who were able to provide them.

Meanwhile the Prosecution said it had no more witnesses for today and the case has now been deferred to 12 March.