Bus driver jailed for killing ‘promising academic’ in railway bridge crash

A bus driver has been jailed for two-and-a-half years for killing a ‘promising’ academic and seriously injuring another student after crashing his double-decker into a railway bridge.

Eric Vice, 64, decided to take a detour from his usual route to ‘beat a few minutes’ before colliding into the bridge en route to Swansea University.

Mum-of-one Jessica Jing Ren, 36, died from brain stem death 11 days after the incident while student Richard Thompson, 20, required facial reconstruction.

On Friday, Vice pleaded guilty at Swansea Crown Court to causing death by dangerous driving as well as causing serious injury by dangerous driving.

Prosecutor Carina Hughes said Vice had decided to take a different route than usual to the university’s Bay Campus after encountering morning traffic on December 12, 2019.

Passengers said the bus appeared to be later than usual in picking them up at various stops and instead of checking tickets Vice had ‘waved them on’.

Ms Hughes said Vice drove past two height restriction warnings on a route used by the city’s single decker park-and-ride buses as he headed for the stone arch bridge on Neath Road.

But the lower steel railway bridge further inside the opening collided with the bus and tore through the upper deck, as screaming passengers were thrown forward and the vehicle came to a halt.

Ms Ren, a visiting lecturer from Huanghuai University in China, was the only person sat in the front row of the upper deck and was on her phone at the time of the crash.

She was airlifted to the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff with spine injuries, leg fractures, lacerations, and a severe brain injury resulting in brain stem death.

American Olympic gold medallist Kevin Young, a master’s student who suffered a head wound and two broken ribs, described seeing Ms Ren hitting the front windscreen.

He comforted her as trapped passengers covered in debris crouched down in the flattened upper deck while they waited to be rescued,

‘Mr Young says that she was slowly trying to mouth some words to him, but it was inaudible. He described that he held her hand to try and comfort her until the police and paramedics arrived,’ Ms Hughes said.

Ms Ren, who had a five-year-old son with her Chinese lecturer husband, was unconscious and eventually cut out of the bus 90 minutes later by firefighters.

Her family agreed for life support to be withdrawn 11 days after being airlifted to hospital.

Following  the crash, witnesses described Vice going up and down the bus’s stairs ‘asking passengers if they were OK’, and escorting aerospace engineering student Mr Thompson down them.

Mr Thompson lost teeth in the crash, as well as severe wounds which required facial reconstructive surgery and dental treatment, but was said to now be ‘coping generally well’.

Vice told police at the scene he had regularly driven under the bridge with single decker buses in the past, and that when he hit the steel part of it ‘it was too late’.

Ian Ibrahim, defending, said Vice was a ‘kind, considerate and compassionate gentlemen’ and that his decision to take the detour was ‘without doubt a catastrophic error of judgment’.

Judge Geraint Williams said Vice’s detour ‘would have gained but minutes’ in time.

He said: ‘That fatal error of yours resulted in the death of a promising young academic.

‘Your delay in travelling through the city centre brought about an uncharacteristic but nonetheless significant impatience in you.

‘The stark reality in this case is that your impatience that day robbed you of the care which ordinarily you applied to your professional driving.’

Vice, from Dunvant, Swansea, was sentenced to two years and six months in jail.

He was also disqualified from driving for five years and three months, and will not be able to drive unless an extended driving test is taken.

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