A lorry driver charged after crashing into a school bus in Melbourne’s west on Tuesday, seriously injuring several children, told police that flashes of sunlight may have changed his perception, a court has heard.
Jamie Gleeson, 49, appeared in Melbourne Magistrates Court via video link on Wednesday afternoon after being charged with four counts of dangerous driving causing serious injury.
The court heard that Gleeson, a lorry driver for 18 years, had no drugs or alcohol in his system at the time of the crash, which happened at the junction of Exford Road and Murphys Road in Eynesbury at around 3.55pm on Tuesday.
Prosecutor Ben Kerlin said the bus driver, who was making a right turn from Exford Road onto Murphys Road, had seen the lorry approaching from behind and tried to accelerate to get out of the way but failed.
Kerlin told the court Gleeson had told police he was on his way home from work at the time of the accident, following his “usual route”.
He said he would normally “take it easy” in school zones and accelerated out of the 60km/h zone outside Exford Primary School when he noticed “a flicker of sunlight in the trees”, Kerlin told the court.
The court heard Gleeson said he had encountered flickering of the sun when driving along the route before, which could “alter distance and depth perception”.
“If it mattered … I couldn’t tell you,” he said during his police interview Wednesday morning, Kerlin told the court.
Gleeson said he slammed on the brakes after seeing the bus slow down in front of him, but didn’t have enough time to stop before colliding with it.
Kerlin said that as a result of the collision, nine of the 46 children on board were trapped in the bus, eight of whom suffered serious injuries.
Two children required amputations of their hands and arms, he said.
Another 30 children were described by the police as “walking wounded”.
The allegations against Gleeson relate specifically to four children – two each aged nine and 10. Kerlin said more charges could follow.
His bail application was granted, with Judge Andrew McKenna noting that he had no criminal history and had co-operated with police. He will return for a mandatory mention on October 18.
Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Michael Cruse had earlier praised the actions of those first on the scene, who helped rescue workers pull trapped children from the wreckage.
“The bus driver, even though he’s injured, I understand he helped some of the kids off the bus. Then we had bystanders who heroically stopped immediately … helping the kids who could be removed from the bus,” he said.
“It was a terrible scene. It was chaotic and it would have been really confronting for the passers-by.”
Exford primary school principal Lisa Campo was alerted by someone driving past the scene.
“We were about to start a staff meeting and I said, ‘I have to go,’ and everybody came with me. We just flooded the kids,” Campo said.
“I honestly thought I’d just be there accompanying kids in distress and it would have been a minor collision. I never expected to see that and I hope I never see it again.”
Campo said students would be offered counseling and other support services. Several did not attend on Wednesday; those who did had to wear their pajamas to school.
The chief executive of the Royal Children’s Hospital, Bernadette McDonald, had previously said that nine children, aged between five and 11, were admitted to the hospital and that several required extensive surgery, including one who had undergone a full amputation of his arm.
“The children have suffered multiple and traumatic injuries including partial and full amputations of arms, multiple crushed limbs, severe head and body lacerations, head injuries and broken glass,” McDonald told reporters Wednesday.
“Three patients are currently receiving spinal support and are being closely monitored for spinal injuries.”
Two children were discharged last night, seven of whom were in stable condition as of Wednesday afternoon.
Many children would have to undergo multiple surgeries and long-term rehabilitation was likely, McDonald said.
“We are working extremely hard to provide the trauma support and care that they will need, not only now but in the coming weeks and months,” she said.
The state’s Premier, Daniel Andrews, and Premier, Anthony Albanese, praised the work of first responders.
“Any accident of this nature is just horrific,” Albanese said. “The fact that it involves school children just breaks your heart, and my heart goes out to them and their families.”