Suspended jail terms sought in Mont Blanc trial

22nd April 2005, Comments 0 comments

BONNEVILLE, France, April 22 (AFP) - The prosecution in the Mont Blanc tunnel fire trial in France asked for suspended jail terms Friday for the driver of the truck that set off the blaze as well as for several French and Italian officials.

BONNEVILLE, France, April 22 (AFP) - The prosecution in the Mont Blanc tunnel fire trial in France asked for suspended jail terms Friday for the driver of the truck that set off the blaze as well as for several French and Italian officials.

Summing up in the closing stages of the three-month trial, state prosecutor Vincent Le Pannerer asked the court to give a six-month suspended jail term to Gilbert Degrave, the Belgian driver whose lorry caught fire in the tunnel in March 1999.

The blaze in the 11-kilometre (6.8-mile) tunnel linking France and Italy under the Alps killed 39 people and was one Europe's worst ever road disasters.

The prosecutor asked for the toughest sentence - a suspended term of three years in jail and a EUR 12,000 (USD 15,700) fine - for Gerard Roncoli, head of security at the French end of the tunnel.

Suspended jail terms of between eight months and two years were requested for the directors of the French and Italian operating companies at the time, the tunnel regulators, as well as the mayor of the town of Chamonix Michel Charlet.

But the prosecutor asked the court to acquit the Swedish car company Volvo, the truck's manufacturer, and overrule allegations that a design fault was to blame.

A total of 16 individuals and companies have been on trial since January 31, and a verdict is expected at the end of July.

Degrave was on his regular journey transporting flour and margarine from Belgium to Italy when he saw fire and smoke emerging from his vehicle half-way inside the tunnel, prompting him to stop and escape on foot.

The fire spread to traffic backed up behind, engulfing 24 goods vehicles, nine cars and a motorcycle in an inferno which raged for more than two days and reached temperatures of 1,000 degrees centigrade. Most of the dead suffocated in the poisonous smoke.

The technical report into the fire established a series of oversights and blunders.

The nearest smoke detector was out of order and the radio frequencies used inside the tunnel were different from the ones used by French emergency services.

It was also shown that the Italian authorities mistakenly pumped fresh air into the fire zone - unwittingly increasing its intensity - instead of extracting the smoke.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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