Suffolk: Train crash tanker driver jailed for 15 months
A TANKER driver has been jailed for 15 months for causing a Suffolk train crash which injured 22 people.
Arvydas Bartasius, 38, from Hawthorn Close, Ely, had admitted endangering the safety of railway passengers on August 17, when his sewage tanker obstructed a two-carriage train at an unmanned level crossing at Little Cornard, near Sudbury.
Lithuanian national Bartasius, who was driving for Herts-based firm JK Environmental, appeared for sentencing yesterday at Ipswich Crown Court, where he was also disqualified from driving for three years.
The National Express East Anglia (NXEA) train was travelling between 50mph and 60mph from Sudbury to Marks Tey when it collided with the 44-tonne Renault tanker and was derailed, a mile into its journey.
Staff on board the train were praised for their response during the aftermath of the crash, which happened shortly after 5.30pm at a telephone controlled level crossing leading to an Anglia Water sewage treatment works.
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Prosecutor Carolyn Gardner said: “Mercifully, no one was killed. However, a number of train passengers were injured - some seriously.”
The injured included Sudbury solicitor Alan Dickinson, who was left with life-threatening injuries, and several other passengers who suffered broken bones and protracted psychological trauma, including panic attacks and flashbacks.
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One passenger, who lost consciousness while trapped under a train seat, was unable to wash or dress herself for six weeks.
Ms Gardner said: “The defendant was responsible for endangering the safety of the driver, guard and all the passengers on the train.”
Bartasius was arrested at the scene and interviewed, telling police he thought the phone was for emergency use only and that he had difficulty reading the warning signs.
But telephone records, said Ms Gardner, showed Bartasius had used the phone two months earlier, when he was berated for not phoning again to say the track was clear - an error which lead to a train delay.
The cost of the crash was estimated by Network Rail and NXEA to be in the region of �1 million, including �750,000 worth of damage caused to the train.
Bartasius, who had a previously clean criminal record, except for a total of six penalty driving points, was described in his defence by Gregory Perrins as a “hard working family man” who had lived and work in the UK for many years.
Mr Perrins said that though Bartasius did not call the signaller on the day of the crash, there was “a culture of not following correct procedure” because of concerns people had about signal reliability.
Mr Perrins added that the health and safety inspector at the sewage site accepted that he too did not follow correct procedure on the day of the crash. “There were general concerns about the crossing,” said Mr Perrins. “It goes some way to explain, but not excuse, why there was a culture of not following procedure.
The court also heard a statement from Bartasius which read: “I’m deeply sorry about this terrible accident which happened as a result of my mistake. I would like to appeal to all the people who were affected from the bottom of my heart.”
Bartasius listened through an interpreter as Judge Holt sentenced him to 15 months in jail, adding: “You had used the crossing before and knew you had to phone for clearance. Instead, you opened the gates and drove across. You took a chance.
“You are a decent man. You are well spoken of and I accept your remorse, but that all has to be in the context that you knew what you were doing. You were reckless. You took a chance and caused a horrific crash.”
Bartasius will spend half his sentence behind bars before being released to serve the remaining suspended term. He was also banned from driving for three years.
A Network Rail spokesperson said after the hearing: “The tough sentence handed down today sends a strong message that anybody who puts lives at risk by breaking the law at a level crossing can expect to be punished severely.
“Level crossings are there to protect the public from one of the busiest railways in the world and each year misuse results in costly damage and delays as well as tragic injuries and fatalities.
“We urge all users of level crossings to obey the rules and safely cross the railway at all times.”