The only one warned in the box, the driver of the school bus, Nadine Oliveira, 53, arrived in a black suit. All morning, she caressed a black Labrador, Ouchi, who, sitting by her side, will assist her during the trial to help her free her speech and manage her emotions. She faces five years in prison and a fine of 75,000 euros.

On the benches of the great hall of the court of Marseille, which has a pole specialized in collective accidents, dozens of parents of children who died or were injured in the collision took place in search of answers.

“It is essential, important and vital for us and for everyone” to be present, testified before the hearing Stéphan Mathieu, father of a teenager who died in the accident.

“We have to face the gaze of the driver, whether she justifies herself on what happened or not, in order to know the truth”, he added, specifying that the most important thing for him was “that she asks us for forgiveness and that she apologizes”.

“Whether she is convicted or not, that’s not the problem,” continued Mr. Mathieu.

At the heart of the debates, the question of whether or not the driver forced the barrier of the level crossing by bringing home, by coach, from college, a group of 23 teenagers.

– “Provide answers” –

“You have to know if this barrier was really open or really closed, that’s what we want to know. We hope that this trial will provide answers”, continues Mr. Mathieu.

On December 14, 2017, shortly after 4:00 p.m., the violent collision between the coach and a regional express train (TER) at a level crossing left six dead and 17 injured, eight of them very seriously. In shock, the bus had been cut in two.

The technical expertise carried out during the investigation concludes that the driver, who was used to this route, forced “the closed half-barrier of the said level crossing while a regional express train was arriving”.

For the investigators, “the most probable hypothesis, on the technical level” is indeed “that of a level crossing closed at the time of the accident”, even if the testimonies attesting to the opposite, including those of certain children, “are the majority”.

The driver has always denied having forced the barrier.

It was a deeply marked woman who came to the hearing: “Not a day or night went by without her thinking about the accident to such an extent that her psychologist told us that she is obsessed with this accident”, underlined one of his lawyers, Me Jean Codognès.

For many of the more than 120 civil parties, the trial must also make people think about the safety of level crossings and school transport.

“Before my drama, I did not think about all that”, namely the situation of the college between two level crossings, the presence of a single driver in a school bus for 23 children, most of them not attached, testifies Fabien Bourgeonnier, Loïc’s father, who died at age eleven in the accident.

“We can blame the coach for a lot of things, but what if we made real protections at the level crossings, really preventing vehicles from passing?”, continues Mr. Bourgeonnier.

On Monday, at the start of the hearing, SNCF, SNCF Réseau and SNCF Voyageurs also joined as civil parties.

The trial takes place in Marseille, which has a specialized center for investigating and judging collective accidents in the South-East of France. It is also rebroadcast in a special room in Perpignan, near the scene of the accident so that relatives of victims can follow it more easily until October 7. Judgment is expected before Christmas.