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7:12pm UK, Monday February 20, 2012
The driver of a school coach that crashed in northern France – leaving an “inspirational” teacher dead and 11 Britons still in hospital – has appeared in court.
Derek Thompson, 47, faces a charges of involuntary homicide and involuntary injury after Peter Rippington, 59, a teacher at Alvechurch Middle School in Worcestershire, died when the bus left the A26 motorway near Chalons-en-Champagne early on Sunday.
Chalons-en-Champagne chief prosecutor Christian de Rocquigny said: “Involuntary homicide means that by the driver’s carelessness, by his lack of attention he caused the death of a person. Involuntary injury means the same thing.
“Witnesses who were driving in the area near the coach saw the vehicle repeatedly swerve towards the verge.
We, as a family, are devastated at the tragic loss of Peter, a wonderful husband, father, son, brother, son-in-law, brother-in-law, uncle, friend and teacher.
Rippington family statement
“The tachograph indicates some unexplained variations in speed in the nine minutes before the accident, the judge explained.
“While being questioned the driver, having denied falling asleep, has acknowledged that it was possible that he did so.”
He said Thompson had been released and was travelling back to England – but on the condition he will return to a French court when required.
Tests on the driver for alcohol and drugs have proved negative.
Six of those injured in the crash have serious injuries.
They include a 13-year-old girl who has been in a coma and has now been transferred to the Necker children’s hospital in Paris where she has had surgery.
The group were returning from a half-term holiday in Italy’s popular Valle d’Aosta skiing region on two coaches owned by British firm Solus Coaches, based in Tamworth, Staffordshire.
Mr Rippington’s wife Sharon and daughter Amy were also injured in the crash, which involved 29 pupils from Alvechurch Church of England Middle School in Worcestershire.
Amy, who suffered minor injuries, is believed to be at her mother’s bedside at a hospital in the city of Reims, where some of the injured are being treated.
It is still unclear how many of the injured are teenagers
A statement released earlier by the school described Mr Rippington as a “dedicated and inspirational” teacher who will be “sadly missed”.
On Twitter a stream of messages of support have been left for a girl called Suzie.
The crash happened near the city of Chalone-en-Champagne early on Sunday
The less seriously injured are being treated at a hospital in Chalons-en-Champagne.
A statement from the Rippington family said: “We, as a family, are devastated at the tragic loss of Peter, a wonderful husband, father, son, brother, son-in-law, brother-in-law, uncle, friend and teacher.
“We are still extremely concerned about the health of his wife, Sharon, who was injured and is still recovering in hospital in France.
“Sharon is accompanied by her daughter Amy, who escaped the incident with minor injuries.”
Students have left bouquets of flowers at the school in memory of the popular teacher known as “Mr Rips”.
A Foreign Office spokesman said: “Our thoughts remain with everyone involved in or affected by the tragic bus crash in France yesterday morning.
“We would like to thank the French authorities and emergency services for the outstanding assistance they have provided to those involved in this tragic event.”
Interski Snowsport School, the Nottinghamshire company that arranged the trip, said there were 21 adults on the coach when it crashed on the A26 at Chalons-en-Champagne.
There were two drivers on board, along with six Interski instructors and 13 adults belonging to the school party.
:: People in the UK who are worried about relatives and friends should call the Foreign Office’s helpline on 020 7008 1500.