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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 November 2005, 16:09 GMT
Bus driver jailed for five deaths
Bus crash

A bus driver who was at the controls of a double-decker bus which killed five pedestrians in Lincolnshire has been jailed for five years.

Stephen Topasna, 51, of Bridge Street, Louth, Lincolnshire, admitted pressing the accelerator instead of the brake when moving out of a lay-by.

The crash took place on a road outside the Fantasy Island resort in Ingoldmells in April 2004.

Topasna admitted causing death by dangerous driving.

Joanne Warren, 37, and her sons, five-year-old Jacob and four-month-old Leyton, of Leicester, were killed when the bus ploughed into them.

Holidaymakers Paula Rhodes, 30, and her 33-year-old husband Richard, of Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, were also killed.

In a letter read to the court before he was sentenced, Topasna wrote: "I have been totally devastated by this accident which has totally stopped my life.

"(But) I once again stress that my suffering is nothing compared to that of those involved and I say again that I am deeply sorry."

The court heard that the accident happened on the busiest day of the year as hundreds of holidaymakers packed the streets outside the Fantasy Island resort.

Topasna, a driver with almost 30 years' experience with Lincolnshire RoadCar, pulled out of a lay-by in Sea Lane, after picking up a number of passengers.

'Pedal confusion'

As he drove away, prosecutor Michael Fowler said, the driver, who was covering a shift in a bus he had not driven before, suffered "pedal confusion".

He hit the accelerator instead of the brake, causing the packed double-decker to "leap forward".

The Warren family and Paula and Richard Rhodes pictured on bus CCTV camera moments before being hit
The victims were captured on CCTV moments before being run over

The bus first struck pedestrian Simon Keyworth, who had been walking in front of the vehicle, knocking him to the floor.

After this Topasna continued to accelerate for a further 22 seconds.

The bus then hit a BMW that had stopped at traffic lights a little further down the road.

Ricocheting off the car, the bus ploughed through the pedestrian crossing and mounted the pavement, scattering terrified bystanders.

The court heard that the Rhodes family, from Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, were on a day trip to Ingoldmells with Mrs Rhodes' parents Neal and Annette Cooper.

'Unintended acceleration'

The couple were walking to their car when they were hit by the bus, killing Mrs Rhodes instantly and leaving her husband trapped under the wheels.

The vehicle then ploughed into the Warren family, from Leicester, who were walking nearby.

The prosecutor told the court the bus travelled 176m before stopping.

Robin Howatt, defending, said the accident was the result of unintended acceleration.

Passing sentence High Court Judge Mrs Justice Steel told Topasna: "You are an experienced bus driver.

"Even taking panic into account it is astonishing that you did not react more quickly to avoid the devastation that you caused.

"I take into account the remorse you obviously feel for the events of that day and I also take into account that, for as long as you live, you will live with the consequences of your driving on that day."

BBC's Quentin Rayner
"Passengers screamed at him to stop"

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