British coach driver charged with manslaughter in France
REIMS, France — The driver of a British coach that crashed in northern France as it was taking schoolchildren home from a skiing trip was indicted Monday for manslaughter, a prosecutor said.
The 47-year-old man, who was driving the coach that crashed in the early hours of Sunday, killing a teacher and injuring 23 passengers, was also charged with inflicting “involuntary injuries,” prosecutor Christian de Rocquigny added.
The driver is “free to return to Britain, but must fulfill certain conditions,” the prosecutor said.
He will have “to inform the judge of any travel outside Britain (and) is forbidden from contacting victims or their relatives,” De Rocquigny said, adding that he is also forbidden from driving in France.
The driver, one of two, told the examining magistrate he could not remember how the accident took place, de Rocquigny said.
The driver may have fallen asleep at the wheel, sending the coach veering off a motorway and into a ditch as the British school party was returning from a skiing trip in Italy.
“Witnesses driving close to the coach saw the vehicle swerving steadily towards the ditch, and the speedometer shows unjustifiably high speeds in the nine minutes before the accident,” de Rocquigny told AFP.
The driver has denied falling asleep, but has acknowledged that he may have “dozed off,” the prosecutor added.
The coach was carrying 29 children from a school in Alvechurch, just south of Birmingham, and 20 adults including teachers, ski instructors and the two drivers.
Teacher Peter Rippington, 59, was killed in the crash, and six people, including a 13-year-old girl, were seriously hurt.
The teenager has been transferred from Reims to a Paris hospital where she remains in critical condition, the prosecutor’s office said.
About a dozen other people were still in hospital on Monday, while the others have returned home.