| 07.03,19. 01:51 PM |
Son knew about faulty brakes before bus crash killed driver father, court told
Photo: The bus was travelling on Moss Vale Road at Fitzroy Falls when it crashed through a guard rail. (ABC News)
After a lengthy investigation, two men are now on trial for involuntary manslaughter over a New South Wales bus crash that killed one of their fathers.
Graham Lees, 58, died when he lost control of the bus he was driving down a steep, winding road near Kangaroo Valley, on the state's South Coast, in May 2010.
Mr Lees, who was the owner of the company G&S Mini Bus Pty Ltd, was ejected from the vehicle when it ran through a guardrail and slid 40 metres down a steep embankment.
He was transporting 29 disability carers from the Polish Australian Welfare Association in western Sydney to a retreat at around 7:30pm on May 14, when the crash occurred.
Twenty-seven of the passengers were hurt, including one man who sustained critical spinal injuries and had to be airlifted to Liverpool Hospital.
Mr Lees' 33-year-old son, Simon Lees, and his mechanic friend Stuart Lewry, 43, have been charged with involuntary manslaughter and grievous bodily harm.
Charges against the men were laid in 2017 after an investigation by the Traffic and Highway Patrol's Crash Investigation Unit concluded the bus's brakes had failed.
Prosecutors argue Simon Lees had been repeatedly informed the buses rear brakes required repairs, but he did not fix them and failed in his duty of care.
The Crown alleges Stuart Lewry signed off on a pink slip for the vehicle after it had received a defect notice from the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA), which is now known as Roads and Maritime Services.
Mr Lewry is alleged to have signed off on the paperwork without inspecting the vehicle after being told by Mr Lees the repairs had been done.
The pair have pleaded not guilty, and their trial now underway in front of Judge Andrew Hassler in Wollongong.
Defence lawyers will argue the accused were not responsible for the maintenance of the bus and that Mr Lees' father had overall responsibility of his company's fleet and knew the bus needed repairs.
Witnesses relive moment they knew 'something was up'
Motorist Nathaniel Simpson was one of the first witnesses to give evidence in the men's trial.
Having lived in the area for close to a decade, Mr Simpson told the court he drove the road daily in his four-wheel drive utility vehicle.
He said he was driving along Moss Vale Road when he saw a gouge in the tarmac on one of the hairpin bends and "could smell burning brakes."
Mr Simpson told the court he also noticed a piece of guardrail missing in the area and became concerned.
As he continued down the mountain , he said, the smell of the burning brakes became less distinct.
Mr Simpson told the court he turned his vehicle around and stopped near the damaged guard rail before shining his headlights down the embankment, where he saw several injured passengers emerging from the bus.
Mr Simpson said he ran down to the wreckage, climbed through a side window of the bus and turned its ignition off before waiting with the injured passengers for emergency services to arrive.
He said he found the driver of the bus, Graham Lees, further up the hill "rolled up in a ball", already deceased.
Truck driver Mark Jackson, who said he was travelling behind the bus in his empty prime mover, was also called as one of the first witnesses in the trial.
Mr Jackson said he felt Mr Lees was "sitting on the brakes down the mountain" and said he felt it "was not common practice" to brake frequently and for long periods down the steep, winding road.
He told the court he "knew there was something up" when he saw "smoke coming out of the back end of the bus."
The judge-only trial is expected to last for several weeks, with the prosecution set to call on several witnesses, including heavy vehicle mechanics, passengers on the bus and key investigators.