Sierre bus crash investigation closed without charges

Summary

After responding to further inquiries from parents of children from Flemish schools who died in the 2012 bus accident in the Valais canton, the Swiss prosecution has definitively closed the case

Parents not satisfied

The Swiss investigation into the bus crash in March 2012 that killed 28 people from two schools in Flanders, including 22 children, is now definitively closed, the prosecutor for the Valais canton said. No new evidence has been uncovered, and no exact cause for the accident can be determined.

The investigation concludes that the driver, who died in the crash, was responsible for the accident, but that his legal culpability cannot be established, said the Swiss prosecutor, Olivier Elsig.

A group of parents of the victims, however, are not prepared to accept that decision. “This decision is incomprehensible,” read a statement sent out by the group’s lawyers. “The parents are of the opinion that the investigation leaves a lot to be desired.”

The parents have engaged an independent investigation bureau, the Dutch forensic agency IFS, to carry out enquiries they think Elsig has ignored, in particular into the state of mind of one of the two drivers, who was taking medication for depression and who could, the parents claim, have crashed the bus deliberately in an act of suicide.

“The families would like to stress that they are not out to damage the driver’s reputation,” said the statement. “On the contrary, they consider that he, too, is a victim.”

The group now intends to appeal Elsig’s closure of the case. They will argue that questions they have put to the prosecutor have not been answered and that IFS’s investigation needs to be taken into account. “This is necessary for the beginning of the grieving process and to avoid the same thing from happening to others,” read the statement.

IFS plans to carry out its own reconstruction of the accident in a tunnel in Sierre, probably this week, and has asked for DNA evidence from the driver to be made available to them.

The coach carrying children and staff from the two Flemish schools – located in Lommel and Heverlee – home from a skiing holiday crashed in a niche in the tunnel, killing 22 children, four members of staff and both drivers, and injuring 24 more children.

The accident led prime minister Elio Di Rupo to declare a day of national mourning, with funeral services attended by senior politicians, including the Swiss president, members of the Belgian and Dutch royal families and the mayors and residents of the two towns.

The widow of the younger driver, Evy Laermans, said she was satisfied with the conclusion of the case. After “an extremely long and thorough investigation,” she said, “nothing new has been discovered. Let this stand as proof that what happened on 13 March 2012 was an accident, and nothing more.”

Photo courtesy Het Belang van Limburg