A VICTORIAN truck driver has been found guilty of dangerous driving causing death after his truck slammed into a bus, killing the Inverell-based driver.
The emotional verdict, handed down by the 12-member jury in Armidale District Court late on Wednesday afternoon, saw tears flow from all sides of the courtroom as Michael Simpson was convicted of the 2012 crash.
The 58-year-old will learn his fate today as Acting Judge Colin O’Connor hands down his punishment, with Simpson facing a maximum of 10 years behind bars.
Simpson was behind the wheel of a McColl’s B-double milk tanker on the afternoon of February 10, 2012, on the Gibraltar Range, between Grafton and Glen Innes, when it travelled to the wrong side of the road, slamming into the CountryLink coach.
Inverell coach driver Neil Harmon, a prominent resident in the town, died at the scene while several of his passengers, including children, were injured.
Crown prosecutor Paul Kerr had maintained the 58-year-old was driving dangerously, either too fast, failing to maintain control of his vehicle or intentionally crossing into the wrong lane because “that’s what truckies do to get around those bends”.
Mr Kerr acknowledged Simpson felt guilt over the crash but said he had failed to take responsibility for his actions, by blaming the road.
The trial heard from a number of experts as well as crash investigators, who helped to compile the brief of evidence against Simpson.
It took just one full day of deliberations before the unanimous verdict was reached.
Members of the jury were visibly emotional as the guilty finding was handed down before a courtroom packed with Simpson’s supporters and family, as well as relatives of Mr Harmon.
Simpson pleaded not guilty to the dangerous driving occasioning death offence after he was charged by crash investigators in March last year.
Throughout the one-week trial, the defence argued the condition of the road was a “hidden trap” and, coupled with a damp road, had caused the B-double to slip.
Defence counsel Ian Hill submitted to the jury skid marks on the road from the two trailers were consistent with jackknifing.
The shock death of Mr Harmon rattled the Inverell community and saw tributes flow from all corners of the community last year.
The 63-year-old was frequently seen driving the CountryLink Inverell to Tamworth route and had more than 35 years behind the wheel as a driver for Symes Coaches, the family business, and CountryLink.
He was labelled a “hero” by one of the passengers on the bus who said Mr Harmon had saved the lives of others on board.
His family described the father, grandfather and brother as a “best mate” and a “happy-go-lucky driver” who loved to drive people places and would be sorely missed.