12:00pm Wednesday 9th February 2005
THE parents of a Gwen-draeth Valley five-year-old who died when a coach ploughed into their family car have spoken of their relief following the conviction of coach driver Kevin Roy Barnes.
"It's been very hard and very stressful," said Meinir Walters, aged 34, of Heol yr Ysgol, Cefneithin. "But he was found guilty and that's what we wanted. At last everybody knows who was at fault."
Her husband Darren, also 34, added: "Everyone has been really supportive right from the beginning, from the fire brigade to the ambulance service, the police and the CPS.
"We have no words to describe how good our team were and we had a fantastic barrister."
The Walters were travelling home from a shopping trip on the Hendy link road in January last year, when the Ford Galaxy they were travelling in was crushed between Barnes's coach and a lorry.
Meinir, Darren, three-year-old Lowri and Erin, aged 20 months, were all taken to hospital with injuries. But five-year-old Steffan died at the scene.
Coach driver Barnes, who had developed braking problems just outside Llanelli but chose to continue his journey, was jailed for three years and banned from driving for five years.
But the Walters feel this was not enough.
Darren said: "We have got a life sentence - not just for a couple of years." His wife added: "I really think that for doing something like this twice he should never be able to drive again.
"He'll be out in 18 months and his family will have him back. But we can't see Steffan, hug him or kiss him. Although we have been learning to live on without him, everything was focused on last week.
"Now it feels like a downward slope, but the important thing now is to focus on the future of our two little girls."
It has emerged that Barnes had caused an almost identical crash four years before.
Just moments after a jury found him guilty of causing death by dangerous driving the prosecution revealed his driving record.
Barnes, aged 41, was fined in November 2000 for driving without due care and attention after running his coach into the back of traffic on the main Swansea-Oystermouth road.
Barnes, from St Thomas in Swansea, was driving a 10 tonne, 52-seater for Brian Isaac Coaches when the vehicle developed braking problems just outside Llanelli.
A gauge in the cab began fluctuating, warning there was a defect in the flow of air to the brakes.
The coach driver of 19 years, decided to keep driving, thinking he could get the vehicle home safely. But as he crested a hill two and a half miles further on, disaster was about to happen.
In the distance Barnes spotted a line of vehicles waiting at red traffic lights. With 250 yards to go he applied the brakes - with virtually no effect.
Afraid and panicking, he gripped the steering wheel and waited for the collision as his unstoppable bus neared a Ford Galaxy.
A split second later, Barnes' coach smashed into the back of his car, with such force it was jammed against a lorry in front.
The lorry driver thought the coach had hit his vehicle.
But after getting out to see what had happened, he saw "to his horror" there was a crushed vehicle in between.
In a statement, Mr Walters said: "I believe I left the hand brake on but kept the vehicle in first gear ready to drive away.
"The next thing I felt was my inner self leaving my body in what appeared to be slow motion.
"I just could not believe what was happening around me. I was in a terrible, dazed state and terrific pain and it was at this time I realised I had been involved in a terrible accident."
Of his son Steffan, he said: "I saw he was not moving, but his eyes were flickering."
Mrs Walters, also 34, said: "I could not see or hear Lowri. Erin had her head leaning back on the back rest of my seat and she was not responding initially.
"I remember stroking her head and calling her name and feeling blood on her face and hair."
Barnes denied the charge but was convicted unanimously by a jury at Swansea crown court.
Barnes was jailed for three years and banned from driving for five years.
He was ordered to take an extended driving test before getting back his licence.
Judge Michael Burr said he had made "a grave miscalculation" in continuing the drive the coach once a gauge had indicated problems with the brakes.
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