THE DRIVER of a coach which crashed in France killing a popular Alvechurch teacher and injuring several others is to be tried for involuntary manslaughter.
French authorities have confirmed British driver Derek Thompson will face trial following the crash near Chalons-en-Champagne, 90 miles east of Paris on February 19, 2012.
The coach was carrying staff and pupils from Alvechurch Middle School who were on their way back from a skiiing triip. The crash claimed the life of 59-year-old Peter Rippington who had taught at the school for more than 30 years. Several pupils suffered severe injuries as well as two-ski instructors.
Thompson is expected to stand trial next year and if convicted faces a maximum sentence of up to three years in prison, along with a fine of up to €45,000.
One of the theories the court is expected to be asked to rule on will be whether or not the driver fell asleep at the wheel, although it is understood Thompson does not recall falling asleep or what caused the coach to leave the road.
Specialist international serious injury lawyers at Irwin Mitchell have been representing 25 passengers injured in the incident.
Clive Garner, head of international personal injury and group actions at Irwin Mitchell, said the development was an important step forward for those affected and followed the agreement by the French authorities to release the crash wreckage for examination earlier this year.
“In February it will be three years since this dreadful crash occurred. No other vehicles are thought to have played any part in the incident and to date no mechanical or other issue with the coach itself has been identified. Nevertheless, the driver, the coach company and their insurers have not accepted liability for the incident,” he said.
“Many of our clients are still suffering from serious injuries and nearly three years on still face a long battle to come to terms with their injuries and get their lives on track.”
Steve Ratheram, 53, suffered devastating injuries in the coach crash and was rushed to a local hospital for treatment for injuries including spinal fractures, a fractured sternum and broken ribs.
The former ski instructor said: “We are relived the French legal proceedings are now moving forward as we hope they will shed more light on the events which caused our nightmare to begin. Since the crash I’ve been back to hospital on countless occasions for further treatment and have had to get used to living with my injuries on a daily basis.
“We all want to move on from the crash and move forward with our lives so I hope that the criminal trial happens as soon as possible.”