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Bus driver involved in fatal accident sentenced to 4 years

Entrance to Tafaigata Prison.[SN file photo]

Apia, SAMOA — The fatal accident in Tiavi that took the life of a bus passenger could have been avoided, had the accused obeyed government rules, “if you don’t have a valid drivers license, don’t drive,” said Supreme Court Justice Mata Keli Tuatagaloa who presided over the criminal matter. Bus driver, Fa’asaomoataeao Tausagi was charged with manslaughter, negligent driving causing injuries and no driving license to which he entered guilty pleas. Justice Tuatagaloa handed down a four-year jail term for the defendant when he was sentenced last week.

According to the police summary of facts, on July 22, 2016, the defendant’s bus headed to Siumu from Apia, and he was carrying 40 passengers, more than the allowed number of 34 passengers that a standard bus can carry at one time. Fourteen passengers were injured and one died. The police report says the accused was traveling down a steep hill at Tiavi on the Cross Island Road. The bus came around a bend and there was another bus said to be parked on the road.

The defendant in a defensive attempt not to rear end this other bus overtook and attempted to pass this bus while there was oncoming vehicle. Tausagi in avoiding a collision with the oncoming vehicle swerved the bus, which caused it to flip over and roll. The bus was severely damaged and has been written off.

Justice Tuatagaloa noted the defendant is 37 years old, married with three children. According to the pre-sentence report the defendant started working as a bus driver for Queen Patsy’s Transportation in 2014 where he earned $350 weekly.

Justice Tuatagaloa pointed out the probation report says the defendant along with his employer owner of Queen Patsy did an ’ifoga’ to the deceased passenger’s family and the employer paid for and contributed a lot to the victim’s funeral. However, the deceased’s father, in the victim impact report said that the accused employer did the ‘ifoga’ for them and the defendant did not attend or participate in the ifoga.

“He has however forgiven the accused although he never personally apologized,” said Tuatagaloa. According to the medical report by Dr Cecilia Bartley (dated 9/23/16) confirmed that the defendant suffered a cervical spine injury; mild head injury; left humerus fracture; and was in critical condition – poor prognosis, at the time. Justice Tuatagaloa stated that in the coroner’s report it stated the deceased died from respiratory failure due to the injuries he suffered from the accident to his spinal cord (C5) and left humerus compound fracture. According to Justice Tuatagaloa, the 16 passengers that were injured were mostly students and the injuries ranged from lacerations, fractures, swellings, deep cuts and broken ribs.

Justice Tuatagaloa pointed out there was speed and dangerous driving in the case and that the accused was going downhill and should have taken extra care or reduced downhill speed when going around the bend. “If (the driver) had reduced speed going around the bend it would have either been able to stop when coming across a stationary bus or would have been able to swerve and stop and not flip and roll when it overtook the stationary bus and swerved to avoid an oncoming vehicle. The defendant’s previous convictions for traffic offenses suggests a negligent person.”

The judge opined that too many lives have been lost and many people have been injured because of the negligence of bus drivers. The Land Transport Authority should look at stringent measures to be imposed upon bus owners and bus drivers when issuing driving license and warrant of fitness for buses.  Justice Tuatagaloa noted that the only mitigating factors were the ifoga and the accused’s early guilty pleas.

“The accused will not get full credit for the ifoga as he did not personally attend but his employer carried out the ifoga to include him. ‘Ifoga’ means a lot to the Samoan culture where much harm or wrong has been done. The person who had done wrong in carrying out an ifoga shows humility for what they had done and asks for forgiveness. It is also a sign of acceptance or taking responsibility for their actions. In that sense the accused should have personally done a ‘ifoga’ to the deceased’s family.”

Tuatagaloa sentenced the defendant to four years and three months imprisonment.