Trial begins for truck driver in fatal crash with a school bus

A trial is underway for the driver of a gravel truck that collided with a school bus in central Alberta last year, killing a 17-year-old girl and injuring two other students.

Peter Jorgensen of Bluffton walks outside the Rimbey court house

RIMBEY — A gravel truck driver only saw “red glows” in the fog seconds before he smashed into the rear of two vehicles including a school bus, resulting in the death of a high school student in April 2008.

Peter Oliver Jorgensen, 28, of Bluffton, told an RCMP officer in an interview the day after the April 9, 2008, crash that there wasn’t anything he could have done to avoid the crash which killed Jennifer Noble, 17, of Rimbey.

Jorgensen talked to the officer for almost 90 minutes, a sparse provincial court audience heard Monday on the first day of a three-day trial before Judge John Holmes of Red Deer.

Jorgensen is charged with careless driving and driving too fast for road conditions.

The red glows viewed by Jorgensen were the tail lights of Susan Hatala’s SUV that was stopped about two car lengths behind the bus, which had stopped at a Hwy 53 residence to pick up four girls about 8:14 a.m.

Jorgensen’s empty gravel truck hauling a pup trailer clipped the right rear end of Hatala’s vehicle then continued on, ripping open the rear end of the bus.

Jorgensen said in his interview he thought he was approaching a slow moving vehicle.

“I realized it was right in the middle of the road so I took evasive action,” Jorgensen said.

“I tried to veer right.

“I remember clipping the SUV and I thought I was through the worst of it.

“Then I saw the bus ahead of me.

“I felt helpless and held onto the wheel and pushed the brake.”

Jorgensen said he didn’t blame the bus driver.

“I could see he was probably parked as far to the right (as he could).

He also said he didn’t think he was driving too fast.

“I thought I could see further than I did,” said Jorgensen who had a Class One driver’s licence for eight years before the crash.

Susan Barberree, who was driving in the opposite direction testified she remembered seeing Jorgensen’s truck going past her down a hill.

“I felt that when I saw the truck it was going too fast to stop.

“It was very foggy,” Barberree said.

She had slowed considerably when she passed the bus because all its flashing lights were on.

She didn’t see a bus stop sign out so she proceeded past slowly.

Jorgensen said in the interview he wasn’t going the speed limit of 100 km/h and was somewhere around 85-90 the last time he looked a few minutes before the crash.

He said the fog was thick in some areas and he needed to use his wipers with window washer fluid and heater to clear his windshield.

The maximum fine for careless driving is a $2,300 fine.

Hatala said she was following the bus, with her children aged five and three in the backseat, because it was too dangerous to pass.

She said she clearly saw the bus lights and stopped.

“I remember seeing the lights suddenly (of the gravel truck).

“It looked like it was going really fast.

“I remember thinking what way I could turn to get out of the way.”

Bus driver Ron Adams, 62, of Rimbey was driving for the Wolf Creek School District.

Adams testified he was pulled over about 15 cm inside the white line on the shoulder.

His four-way flashers were on and his amber lights were alternating.

Adams said he could see about 150-200 metres in front of him where he stopped.

He said he had just taken off his emergency brake and was about to straighten up when he felt the impact.

He let the bus roll about 17 metres down the road to get away from the scene in case of a fire. The road was dry and it wasn’t dark at the time, Adams added.

Several children were tossed out the opening. Two students were injured, including one seriously who ended up under the gravel truck.

Adams said he didn’t receive a call from the school district transportation officials to cancel the bus run when he left his house at 7:20 a.m.

He said he didn’t have a concern when he left but didn’t go faster than 80-85 km/h before the crash.

Under cross-examination by Jorgensen’s lawyer Shawn Beaver of Edmonton Adams said he may have been asked by the Carey Anderson family, where the crash occurred, to pick up their children in the drive way.

He said if they had made the request they would have had to ask the district to have the pickup up site changed.

The drop off after school site was changed so Adams drove into Anderson driveway.

Adams faces his own trial in October on a charge of failing to unload and load at safe times.

The trial continues today with RCMP officers including a collision analyst.

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