TRIBUTES have been paid to a coach driver who was behind the wheel of a vehicle that crashed on its way back from a music festival, leaving two others dead and 50 injured.
The coach was returning to Merseyside from the Bestival event on the Isle of Wight when it careered off the road and hit a tree near Hindhead, Surrey, just before midnight on Monday.
The vehicle was carrying festivalgoers along the A3 in the direction of London when it left the road at a bend between the Hindhead tunnel and the exit for Thursley and hit an oak tree on an embankment.
All 50 survivors from the crash were taken to hospital, many of them with serious injuries, Surrey Police said.
No other vehicles were involved and officers are expected to consider whether the coach may have been overloaded as part of their investigation.
Sources said there were believed to be 53 people on board but the vehicle only has 52 seats, including the driver’s.
The coach driver, who has now officially been named by Surrey Police as Colin Daulby, was described by his neighbours in Warrington tonight as an “all round good guy”.
Tom McLoughlin said: ‘We’re all in shock. This is a close knit street and everyone knew Colin.
‘I had known him for 20-odd years and spoke to him only the other day.
‘He was a very good neighbour, an all round good guy.’
Mr McLoughlin said the coach driver, the father of two adult sons, was often visited by his children and their families.
Another neighbour, Ann Parsons, said: ‘Colin would always come and chat. He wasn’t intrusive but friendly and always had a kind word to say.
‘I’ve only just come home from work and one of the neighbours told me what happened.
‘It’s terrible news and his family will be devastated.
‘They are all very close.’
An 18-year-old passenger who died has been named by police as Michael Molloy from the Liverpool area of Merseyside.
A third victim who died has yet to be formally identified.
The deaths have now been referred to the coroner.
All passengers have been accounted for and a Casualty Reporting Bureau set up to help any concerned relatives has now been closed.
The road was fully reopened shortly before midnight last night. A spokeswoman said: ‘Officers are carrying out a thorough search of the scene including the coach and the surrounding area.’
The coach was removed from the scene of the crash last night after the last body had been removed.
One casualty was airlifted to Southampton General Hospital while others were taken to Royal Surrey County Hospital in Guildford, St Peter’s Hospital in Chertsey, St George’s Hospital in Tooting, King’s College Hospital in London, Frimley Park Hospital in Surrey and Queen Alexandra Hospital in Portsmouth.
Some passengers were later taken to a rest centre set up nearby by Waverley Council.
Inspector Richard Mallett said it was not believed that road conditions or the weather were a factor in the crash.
He told Sky News: ‘The injuries range from life-changing injuries ... some people were unconscious when they were taken away from here. We believe some people might lose limbs and certainly there are some life-changing injuries amongst the survivors.’
Asked how long the coach had been on the road, he said: ‘We understand that it left the Isle of Wight festival, so we are less than an hour from Portsmouth where they come across (on the ferry). So less than an hour of this journey.
‘Again, we need to make sure that we get the people out properly and then we can start looking at things like tacho (tachometer) charts and forwarding the investigation.’
John Drudge said his team from the British Red Cross Fire and Emergency Support Service (FESS) tended to around 35 to 40 people with less serious injuries at the scene.
He estimated them to be aged between 18 and 25 and said many of them were ‘traumatised’ by the incident.
The coach was operated by the company Merseypride Travel and Surrey Police are working with their counterparts in Merseyside, as well as with the company, to identify the passengers and notify relatives.
Speaking outside the Merseypride Travel depot in Speke, Liverpool, owner David Hannell said: ‘Further to the news of one of our vehicles being involved in a tragic accident on the return journey from the Isle of Wight festival, myself and the company offer our heartfelt sympathy to all the families of the passengers involved.
‘We ourselves are devastated. I’ve been up all night worried sick about what’s been happening.’
He described the vehicle as a 51-seat “exec coach” which was 16 years old.
Mr Hannell, who named the coach driver only as Colin, said he was semi-retired and had been with the company for six months.
He said: ‘He was ideal for us because his sister lived in Portsmouth so he had somewhere to stay. So it wasn’t as if he had to drive down the day before. He was already there and, according to his sister, he was well rested.’
This is the first serious accident Merseypride has had in 20 years, he said.
The company has cancelled school jobs because his drivers are not in the right frame of mind.
‘We’re all devastated,’ he added.
Bestival organisers said in a statement: ‘This is devastating news. Our thoughts are with the relatives of those affected by this tragic incident. We are currently liaising with Surrey Police to establish the facts.’
A casualty bureau number has been set up and people concerned about passengers on board the coach can call 08000 560 154.