Bus illegally driven round the end of the level crossing barrierView(s):
Yaangalmodara tragedy: Driver,conductor get death sentence
By Wasantha Ramanayake
The barrier at the Yaangalmodara level-crossing close to Polgahawela along the Colombo-Kurunegala main road was closed to road traffic. But a Leyland bus with a capacity crowd overtook the two or three vehicles waiting at the closed barrier and moved towards the crossing as if it was going to cross the railway line, before the train passed the spot.
A man got down from the bus at the level-crossing and signalled the driver to move the bus forward before the train reached the crossing. Several men screamed to the bus driver not to proceed as the Kandy-bound morning intercity train was already approaching the sharp curve, unseen by the bus driver.
With a big bang the train hit the bus in its middle as the bus driver was trying to race it to the other side, driving round the end of the level crossing barrier, with the bus catching fire as a result of the impact. This was the evidence of eye-witness Upali Bandara, one among many witnesses whose evidence was considered by the Kurunegala High Court as it passed the death sentence on the driver for killing 33 passengers on- board the ill-fated bus plying from Galkiriyagama to Colombo on April 27, 2005.
As the accident remained one of the most tragic ones ever to have happened in the country, the court passed the first ever death sentence given to an accused committing a road traffic offence.
Although 41 persons died in the accident, the first accused driver A. W. Haprool Azad of Galewela was found guilty of committing the murders of only 33 passengers. The court held that the prosecution was not able to prove beyond reasonable doubt guilt regarding the other charges as certain bodies were not identified.
The first accused was also found guilty of committing the offence of attempted murder of 27 passengers who were injured in the incident. He was sentenced to ten years RI for each count to be served concurrently. The court also imposed a fine of Rs 5,000 on him for each count and in default of the payment, he was ordered to serve one month’s RI each, also to be run concurrently.
The bus conductor M.G. Buddhika Ruwan Kumara (25) was also found guilty of aiding and abetting the committing the murders of 33 passengers and was given the death sentence.
The court also found him guilty of aiding and abetting the attempted murder of 27 passengers who were injured in the accident and was sentenced to ten years RI for each count, to be served concurrently. In addition, the court imposed a fine of Rs. 5,000 on him for each of the 27 counts and in default of the payment was ordered to serve a sentence of one month’s RI for each count, which is also to be served concurrently.
Pleading in mitigation the first accused told court that he loved his own life best and never even in his dreams had any intention of killing the passengers. He also said he was the sole breadwinner of his family which included two sick children. He said he had no previous convictions and appealed to the court for pardon in the name of Allah.
The bus conductor appealed to the court to reduce his sentence saying he looked after his parents and two children of his sister.
Delivering judgment High Court Judge Priyantha Fernando noted that the first accused’s reasoning was that he decided to illegally drive the 32-foot long bus with 54 seated passengers and some standees, round the end of the level crossing barrier, so that he could arrive in Colombo by 10.10 in the morning.
The reasoning of the first accused could by no means be considered as an excuse as he admittedly had immensely risked the lives of the passengers, the judge observed. The judge noted that he had deliberately ignored the flashing red light signals and the closed barrier, signalling an oncoming train. He has also ignored the warnings of the gateman and three-wheeler drivers at the spot, by driving round the end of the barrier.
He has also admitted that if a train hit the bus deaths or fatal injuries that could result in death, would be caused to the passengers, the judge noted. The prosecution has proved beyond reasonable doubt that the second accused conductor had encouraged the driver to drive the bus through breaking road rules, the High Court judge also noted.
The driver and conductor were indicted on 152 charges on March 22, 2007, two years after accident. The Attorney General had directly indicted the accused without a preliminary magisterial inquiry due to the seriousness of the offence.
The first accused was charged on forty counts of murder and thirty-seven counts of attempted murder, while the conductor was charged on forty counts of aiding and abetting to commit murder and thirty-seven counts of aiding and abetting attempted murder.
Senior State Counsel Chethiya Gunasekera appeared for the prosecution. Attorney-at-Law Lakmal Ratnayake instructed by Keerthi Dunusinghe appeared for the two accused.
A large number of witnesses including eye witness, injured passengers, Police and medical officers gave evidence.
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