Croydon truckie ‘took the risk’ of not pulling over before crashing into school bus

The scene of a collision between a school bus and a truck in Bacchus Marsh, Greater Melbourne, Wednesday 21 September 2022. Picture: (AAP Image/Joel Carrett)

By Emily Woods, AAP

A teen cannot close her eyes without seeing images of a crash on her way to space camp, while the man who drove the school bus has struggled to return to work, a court has been told.

Croydon truck driver Brett Russell faced Melbourne Magistrates Court on Monday 4 March for a hearing to test evidence before a magistrate will decide whether to commit him to stand trial over the September 2022 crash.

The 61-year-old is facing 80 charges, including dangerous driving causing serious injury and reckless conduct endangering life, after he allegedly ploughed into the Loreto College Ballarat bus.

The bus was on its way to Melbourne Airport to take the teens on the trip of a lifetime to NASA space camp in the US, the court was previously told.

Russell is accused of ignoring warning signs that his B-Double truck, towing two trailers, had lost braking capacity before it rear-ended the bus, about 3.16am on September 21.

The school bus rolled down an embankment off the Western Highway near Pentland Hills, west of Melbourne, with at least 25 students, teachers and the bus driver suffering injuries.

When Russell was interviewed by police in January 2023, he was questioned if he knew about issues with the brakes before the crash and the risks since the truck was towing two trailers.

“So you recognised the risk?” an officer asked Russell, court documents alleged.

“Yes. And I still took the risk, yes,” he replied.

“I couldn’t stop in time.”

Asked why he still drove the truck, he allegedly responded: “Just trying to do the right thing.”

Russell is on bail and sat in the front row of the court on Monday, as several of the passengers’ treating physicians gave evidence on their injuries.

Defence lawyer John Lavery questioned each witness on the psychological and physical injuries of their patients, as Russell planned to contest the seriousness of some.

Psychologist Gabrielle French, who has been treating a year 10 student involved in the crash, said the girl stopped going to school and suffered trauma, anxiety and dissociation after the incident.

“She said ‘every time I shut my eyes I think of the accident, so … I don’t want to go to sleep’,” she told the court about her sessions with the teen.

The school bus driver has been diagnosed with PTSD from the crash and has struggled to return to work, his GP Adam Rouse said.

“He still continues to experience flashbacks and nightmares,” he said.

Dr Rouse said he has slowly eased back into part-time work on buses, including driving empty buses, and now drives with passengers up to three days a week.

The committal hearing before Magistrate Kieran Gilligan returns on Tuesday.