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Polish driver sentenced to 8.5 years for railway accident

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Novy Jicin, North Moravia, Feb 24 (CTK) – Polish driver Slawomir Wojciech Sondaj is to spend 8.5 years in prison for having caused a collision between his lorry and a Pendolino train, in which three people died and some 20 others suffered injuries, in Studenka in 2015, the district court decided on Wednesday.

The verdict is valid because both Sondaj and the state attorney gave up the right to appeal.

Sondaj, 50, entered the level crossing while the red lights were on and his lorry got stuck between the gates. Shortly afterwards the train crashed into it.

The court sentenced Sondaj for endangering public safety out of negligence. He faced up to ten years in prison.

Sondaj was also banned from driving for ten years, which only applies in the Czech Republic. If he applies for transfer to a Polish prison, the relevant Polish court can extend the ban to Polish territory.

The court said Sondaj made a driver’s gross mistake. It said before that he should not have got the driver’s licence at all, when reacting to the fact that Sondaj was guilty of 16 misdemeanours and traffic accidents in the past two years.

“The confession of the defendant is not complete. The court does not consider it an extenuating circumstance. He admitted that he entered the level crossing, but he does not admit any mistake. He claims that the level crossing is badly safeguarded,” judge Jaromir Psenica said and dismissed the claim.

“It applies in this country just as in Poland that (the level crossing) must not be entered when the red light is on,” he added.

Sondaj claimed that he could enter the level crossing because the gates were up. He did not consider the fact that the red lights were already flashing for half a minute a reason why he should stop.

He claimed that he never followed the lights at level crossings and that he only paid attention to the gates.

Sondaj said he did not act deliberately and that it is a big tragedy. He apologised to all damaged persons on Wednesday.

He was taking tin from Poland to Hungary. According to the indictment, he entered the level crossings at a time when the red lights were on on July 22.

The train that crashed into the lorry was riding at about 160 kilometres per hour. The engine driver managed to lower the speed to 140 kilometres.

State attorney Ales Bohac said Sondaj threatened not only the train passengers, but also people in the vicinity of the railway.

“I think that he should never more drive,” Bohac said. He added that Polish bodies fundamentally failed in Sondaj’s case.

“It is terrible that the (above) absurdities are told by a professional driver who was riding across Europe. He crossed thousands of level crossings,” Bohac said.

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