Coach driver Lewis McDonald jailed for Penley terror trip
A coach driver has been jailed for nine months after he terrified passengers by veering across carriageways and going the wrong way around a roundabout.
Members of a Wrexham parent-teacher group screamed in fear when Lewis McDonald started driving erratically on a trip home from Liverpool in November.
Mold Crown court heard how the coach swung from side to side in a rocking motion along the M56 motorway.
McDonald, 68, from St Helens, admitted drink driving and dangerous driving.
The coach had been booked by the parent teacher group from Madras Primary School at Penley, near Wrexham, to take 34 passengers, including four teenagers, on a 70-mile shopping trip to Liverpool.
The court heard McDonald was an hour late picking up the party in Penley because he couldn't find the village, but there were no concerns about the journey to Liverpool.
Prosecuting barrister Caroline Harris said the driver was 15 minutes late collecting his passengers in the evening.
Members of the party told the court how they became increasingly worried during the journey home.
Headmistress Lynda Houston said on the M53 McDonald drove in the middle lane at about 20 mph.
On the M56 the coach started swinging from side to side in a rocking motion.
Then on the A483 other cars had to take evasive action and sound their horns as the defendant changed lanes a number of times for no apparent reason.
A passenger told how the coach driver turned off the dual-carriageway and drove the wrong way around a roundabout "as if he was not aware that the road was there".
On rural roads at Overton, near Wrexham, passengers had been worried at how he would take tight bends at a bridge over the river Dee.'That's me finished'
The court was told passengers were shouting at him, scared that they would end up in the river.
Passenger Sybil Edge told how she was left "shaking like a leaf".
When the coach eventually stopped, a motorist who had followed for 15 miles and whose wife had contacted the police jumped on board and seized the coach ignition keys to prevent McDonald driving any further.
End Quote Judge Rhys Rowlands
But it beggars belief that that you started drinking knowing that you were taking a coach with passengers back from Liverpool to Penley”
Police arrived and arrested him, and McDonald said: "That's me finished."
A breath test three hours after he set off from Liverpool showed that he had 58 microgrammes of alcohol in his breath compared to the legal limit of 35.
He said that he had not touched a drop of alcohol for weeks but had a relapse.
McDonald said he had returned home and had a couple of tumblers of whisky and coke.
"You have one and then you have two, don't you," he told police.
Defending barrister Oliver King said that his client would never get behind the wheel again.
McDonald, a coach driver for 40 years, admitted dangerous driving and drink driving.
Judge Rhys Rowlands said that it was clearly dangerous for anyone to drink to excess and drive.
"But it beggars belief that that you started drinking knowing that you were taking a coach with passengers back from Liverpool to Penley," he said.
"Passengers became more and more concerned with people shouting at you during the latter part of the journey to get back onto the correct side of the road."
He added: "You had far too much to drink and then to drive a coach is the height of irresponsibility."
"You were responsible for your 34 passengers, most of them parents of young children. You put them at risk of injury or worse."