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Millas fatal collision: driver denies forcing level crossing barrier

Six schoolchildren who were returning home aboard the bus were killed on December 14, 2017 and 17 were injured, eight of them very seriously.

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Millas fatal collision: driver denies forcing level crossing barrier

Six schoolchildren who were returning home aboard the bus were killed on December 14, 2017 and 17 were injured, eight of them very seriously.

The only one warned, the driver of the school bus, Nadine Oliveira, 53, remained prostrate most of the time, head bowed, a box of tissues at her disposal.

"I can see the scene well, everything was up, everything was off, there was no sound signal, I hired the bus", described the defendant, black suit and glasses raised on her auburn hair, bursting into tears as the president questions him about the circumstances of the crossing.

"Afterwards I pick up speed, I wake up on the floor with lots of screams. There was a child on my right on the floor", she added, back to the room, before returning to sit alongside of Ouchi, a black Labrador who must help him throughout the trial to free his speech and manage his emotions.

Describing herself as a "cautious and conscientious" driver who studied her routes upstream, Nadine Oliveira had taken this route six times a day since September 2017 but without ever having been confronted with the passage of a train.

Once on the level crossing, "do you remember seeing the train, which was red, arrive?" Asks the president of the court, Céline Ballerini, again. "No", replies Ms. Oliveira, who faces five years in prison and a fine of 75,000 euros.

On the benches of the large hall of the Marseilles court, which has a specialized center on collective accidents, dozens of parents and relatives of children who died or were injured in the collision took their places in search of answers.

“It is essential, important and vital for us and for everyone” to be present, testified before the hearing Stéphan Mathieu, father of a teenager who died in the accident.

"We have to face the gaze of the driver, whether she justifies herself on what happened or not, in order to know the truth", he added, specifying that the most important thing for him was "that she asks us for forgiveness and that she apologizes".

"Whether she is convicted or not, that's not the problem," continued Mr. Mathieu.

At the heart of the debates, the question of whether or not the driver forced the level crossing barrier by bringing a group of 23 teenagers to the town of Saint-Feliù-d'Avall.

The bus "was doing its maneuver and it did not stop. The barrier, it was pushed quietly, as if it were pushed by hand", testified at the bar the passenger of a vehicle which was stopped from there. he other side of the level crossing, whose barriers were well down, he says.

- "No future" -

The technical expertise carried out during the investigation concludes that the driver, who was used to this route, forced "the closed half-barrier of the said level crossing while a regional express train was arriving".

For the investigators, "the most probable hypothesis, on the technical level" is indeed "that of a level crossing closed at the time of the accident", even if the testimonies attesting to the opposite, including those of certain children, "are the majority".

The driver has always denied that the barrier was closed.

"You can well imagine what psychological situation she is in. She is devastated. She is a woman who has no future," said one of her lawyers, Me Jean Codognès.

"But she was waiting for this trial, it will also do her good," he added.

For many of the more than 120 civil parties, the hearing must also reflect on the safety of level crossings and school transport.

"Before my drama, I did not think about all that", namely the situation of the college between two level crossings, the presence of a single driver in a school bus for 23 children, most of them not attached, testifies to the AFP Fabien Bourgeonnier, father of Loïc, died at 11 in the accident.

On Monday, at the start of the hearing, SNCF, SNCF Réseau and SNCF Voyageurs also joined as civil parties.

The trial, which takes place until October 7, is also rebroadcast in a special room in Perpignan. Judgment is expected before Christmas.

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