Drunken bus driver 3½ times over limit

A drunken bus driver has narrowly avoided jail following a crash in which his vehicle swerved into a ditch minutes after he had dropped off a group of schoolchildren.

A drunken bus driver has narrowly avoided jail following a crash in which his vehicle swerved into a ditch minutes after he had dropped off a group of schoolchildren.

Lee Damerell was travelling to pick-up pensioners on their way to a day centre when he lost control of his 16-seat minibus and crashed into the ditch and a tree off the A12 between Lowestoft and Wrentham.

Lowestoft magistrates heard yesterday that Damerell, 35, of Rotterdam Road, Lowestoft, had been drinking heavily the night before the accident and was still three-and-a-half times over the legal drink drive limit when he crashed the bus shortly before 8am on July 6.

School pupils who were being driven from Lowestoft to Wrentham reported that Damerell had been driving erratically and had clipped roadside kerbs during the journey.

Another driver gave a statement saying how he saw Damerell's minibus, operated by Grebe Coaches of Beccles, swerve across the road shortly before it crashed. Damerell was trapped in the wreckage and had to be cut free by emergency services, although his injuries did not turn out to be as bad as initially feared.

Yesterday, Damerell was given a 20-week prison sentence, suspended for two years, and was banned from driving for 32 months. He was also ordered to carry out 240 hours' unpaid work and has lost his job.

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Chairman of the bench Trevor Lynes said: "This is really quite a serious case. You were three-a-half times over the drink drive limit, carrying children and intending to carry other vulnerable people."

The court head that Damerell was feeling depressed after his partner had moved out with their young child and had spent the night before the accident drinking lager and whisky.

His first job was to pick up four children in Lowestoft and drive them to Wrentham where they would catch another bus to a school in Woodbridge. He was then scheduled to pick up a number of pensioners and take them to the Blyford Road day centre in Lowestoft.

Mitzy Bond, prosecuting, said Damerell was breathalysed and gave a reading of 122 mcgs of alcohol in 100mls of breath. The legal limit is 35.

She added: "The aggravating feature of this case was the extremely high breath reading. There was damage to his vehicle, but fortunately no damage to any other vehicles or any injuries to the children. The defendant was then on his way to pick up elderly people."

In a statement read out in court, one of the school pupils said: "I noticed that the wheels on the bus went up on the kerb; that doesn't normally happen. It hit the kerb a couple of more times during the journey. We noticed that the driver's hands were unsteady on the steering wheel and somebody said he was being a bit strange."

James Hartley, in mitigation, said Damerell was feeling depressed following the problems with his relationship.

"He was drinking lager and whisky but doesn't know how much. He woke up and said he felt all right. However, clearly he wasn't driving as well as he should have been.

"He said a pheasant had crossed the road and he swerved, but lost control and went into a ditch and hit a tree.

"Unfortunately he lost his career on the basis of what happened to him on this day."