Drunk coach driver leaves passengers stranded on dual carriageway

A DRUNKEN coach driver has avoided jail despite taking his passengers on a tour of terror through North Yorkshire, swerving across icy lanes and driving the wrong way up a one-way street.

In a case magistrates described as displaying the most "most appalling" driving they had ever seen, Patrick Burke, 52, forced some of his 37 passengers - including screaming children - to beg him to pull over in horrendous weather conditions last month.

They had become suspicious when he smelled of alcohol and looked "dishevelled" as they returned from a day's Christmas shopping in York - but he insisted he was merely tired.

He then took them on a ten-mile journey as he attempted to drive them back to Manchester. On roads made hazardous by snow, he smashed into barriers attempting to turn the large single-decker which he had driven the wrong way down a busy one-way street.

At this point, two "absolutely terrified" passengers left the coach deciding the train would be safer - but Burke carried on ignoring cries from the bus.

He was finally persuaded to pull over - but compounded his errors by leaving the bus straddled across the A64 dual carriageway and then turning the lights out leaving the remaining passengers fearing a collision.

At Selby Magistrates Court, chairwoman Margaret Dennis told shamed Burke: "In all the years my colleagues and I have sat on this bench we've never heard such an appalling catalogue of events. It's a miracle they escaped serious harm."

But they decided against jailing him - instead ordering him to complete 300 hours of unpaid community work and banning him from driving for three years.

Prosecuting, Simon Ostler said Burke, of Cheadle, Cheshire, was driving the bus for his company Hayton's from Manchester to York for the passengers - ranging from children to the elderly - to enjoy a festive day out on December 5.

He arrived at 9.20am and told passengers he would be going to a Wetherspoon's for lunch. He then drank five lagers before returning to the bus at 5pm.

Mr Ostler said: "One woman said he looked tired and dishevelled, and her 12-year-old daughter even asked if he was drunk. Another passenger reported smelling alcohol on his breath.

"Tracy Fish, who had organised the trip, asked him if he had had an alcoholic drink and he replied 'No I haven't, I'm just very tired'. She accepted this and they drove off."

Within yards of leaving the coach park in the city centre he drove the wrong way up a one-way street, leaving the coach facing an oncoming bus. The bus driver managed to stop and even tried to help Burke reverse back, but he still managed to collide with a barrier on his third attempt.

It was at this point two passengers asked to get off because they were "so worried" by his driving and travelled home by train.

Undeterred, Burke continued on to the A64 which was covered in ice and slush. Another passenger's statement said he was swerving from the inside lane to the outside lane, then back towards the nearside kerb.

Ms Fish's written statement said: "People were panicking, I was scared and shaking. After one severe swerve passengers began shouting at him to pull over, and I knelt down beside him and gently asked him to pull over. He ignored me."

After ten miles of torment she finally convinced the drunk driver to pull over, but he chose to do this with half the bus still on the inside lane of the A64 near Bilborough and then turned all the coach lights off.

Ms Fish continued: "Turning the lights off put us in grave danger of being hit by another vehicle. One young boy started crying and shouting and others were screaming."

She called police, and even then had to stop Burke resuming the journey as he kept returning to the driver's seat. He was breathalysed and found to have 63 mcgs of alcohol in 100 mls of blood - almost twice the legal limit.

Defending, Sandra Keen said: "He wants to apologise to those passengers who he accepts must have been absolutely terrified. There were children crying. He told police that he thanks God he was stopped because he knows what could have happened."

Burke was sacked by his employers when the offence came to light. He admitted driving above the legal alcohol limit, driving without due care and attention and failing to stop after an accident at an earlier hearing.

He was also told to complete a drink drivers' rehabilitation course and pay 85 costs.

Traffic Sergeant Hamish Halloway said: "In my 18 years as a police officer this is one of the worst cases of drink driving I have encountered with potential unthinkable consequences.

"The passengers put their trust in Burke, a professional coach driver, but he chose to put the lives of both adults, children and other road users at significant risk.

"Without the quick thinking actions of some of the adult passengers on the coach, the return journey to Manchester could have had far more serious consequences. Mr Burke's actions can only amount to disgraceful."