By Sarah Beard 20/02 Updated: 21/02 21:43
THE DRIVER of the coach which crashed killing Alvechurch teacher Peter Rippington has denied falling asleep at the wheel but admits he could have been drowsy.
Derek Thompson, 47, is facing charges of involuntary homicide and involuntary wounding after the bus he drove crashed off the A26 motorway in France, and flipped into a ditch. The incident happened in the Champagne-Ardenne region of northern France at 2.30am GMT on Sunday morning (February 19).
Mr Thompson said he 'did not remember' the crash which also seriously injured four others including children. His bail conditions allow him to return to the UK but mean he cannot contact the victims or their families and he must tell the French authorities if he travels outside of Britain.
Seven people are believed to still be in hospital.
Among them is a 13-year-old girl, who has now come out of a coma and been transferred to Necker children's hospital in Parish where she has had surgery.
Teacher Peter Rippington, 59, was killed in the crash and his wife Sharon is also in a serious condition and is being treated in hospital while their daughter Amy, who suffered minor injuries, is at her bedside.
Pupils at Alvechurch Middle School have been laying flowers and posters under the school's flagpole, where candles have been burning through the night in tribute to the much-loved teacher.
Brian Maybee, chair of governors, held a press conference at the school this morning (Monday) and joined the tributes.
"Our condolences and thoughts at this time are for everyone affected by this tragic accident. We pay tribute to Peter Rippington who was such a dedicated and inspirational teacher, he will be so sadly missed by those who knew him."
Alvechurch's Rector David Martin added: "St Laurence's Church will be open today (February 20) to give people an opportunity to come in and say their own prayers as well as light a candle for Peter if they would like to."
The coach - carrying 29 children and 12 adults connected with the school, ski instructors and two drivers - hit a crash barrier before rolling into a ditch at 0230 CET/GMT , in the Rheims area of northern France.
Tributes have continued to pour in to the Standard for Mr Rippington from not only the local area but across the UK and the world.
Ian Simmonds emailed us from Melbourne in Australia to say: "Extremely saddened to hear of the news of the death of Peter Rippington or Rippa as we affectionately knew him back in the day. He taught me at Alvechurch Middle school 30 years ago. Great teacher and a great bloke.
"I remember our football, rugby, cricket and cross country sessions with him and they were always full of laughs. He was a teacher who always engaged his students and I have so many memories of him.
"For anyone to be in a job for so many years speaks volumes of his dedication for a job he obviously loved.
"Even though I now live the other side of the world, news of his death this morning shocked me greatly. Rest in peace Rippa."
Stephanie Hicks, a former pupil and who used to go on the annual ski trip with Mr Rippington, added: "Mr Rippington is the teacher who made a difference to lessons.
"He was always so much fun and had nick names for most of us. I always shyed away from PE lessons but Mr Rippington gave me confidence and belief that I could take part in all the activities.
"I went from someone who hated running to running for the district – thanks to Mr Rippington. I must admit that I never really a big fan of school but most of the happy memories I do have include Mr Rippington."
Nicola Hartley recalled the occasion when she went with Mr Rippington and her dad to watch Aston Villa play as he was a keen fan of the team.
"He will be remembered by almost everyone in the village and people who went to the school who are now in other countries around the world. He was a fantastic character, always made everyone laugh, and will be remembered forever. One of a kind."
A Facebook group set-up in Mr Rippington's memory has attracted more than 600 members in less than 24 hours.
Richard West, a friend of Mr Rippington and former pupil and who is one of the site administrators, said: "This just illustrates what a fabulous teacher, friend and human being he was. The whole village is in shock and our thoughts are with Sharon and his children."
Coun Roger Hollingworth, leader of Bromsgrove District Council and Alvechurch resident, said: "It is absolutely soul destroying. This is something that happens to other people but this time it isn't and it has hit our community. All we can do is provide help and support."
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