A RETIRED firefighter kept his cool after the bus he was on crashed into an empty bar.
Three passengers were taken to hospital after the bus hit the building in High Street West, Sunderland, on Thursday.
Thomas Hutchinson, 61, from Millfield, had boarded the Stagecoach number 20 service just seconds earlier, as it pulled up outside Sunderland Minster.
Mr Hutchinson described how he tried to take the wheel after he realised the driver had collapsed, but could not reach round the cab’s plastic screen.
His heroics came three days after another Stagecoach bus crashed in the city centre, after the driver was taken ill.
Of the High Street West crash, Mr Hutchinson said: “The bus was quite full and there wasn’t much room to move.
“I’d put my bus pass in my wallet and I could see he had left the doors open, which I didn’t think you could do when you were pulling away.
“He pulled away at an angle and when I turned round I could see he had his head on the wheel.
“I couldn’t get through the Perspex to grab it, so I shouted to everyone ‘Get hold of something, he’s collapsed and we are going to crash’.
“This old woman came sliding down the floor on her side and people were screaming.
“I think because I used to be a fireman, I was a bit more calm. I was shouting, ‘Someone ring an ambulance’.
“Two blokes had got on the bus and managed to pull the Perspex door off and were carrying the driver off and he was being sick.”
Mr Hutchinson, a step-grandfather of two, was an acting sub-officer with Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service for 31 years.
He suffered bumps and bruises in the accident, but did not need hospital treatment. A 59-year-old man and two women, aged 79 and 82, were taken to hospital.
Mr Hutchinson said more people could have been injured if the bus had not swerved into the building.
He added: “If the bus had gone straight on, it would have gone through the lights at Revolution, then there is only the art college opposite, at which point we would have been doing a lot more speed.”
New owners of the bar, formerly Destination, which was undergoing renovation work, fear the impact will have damaged the structure of the building and plans to open it might have to be put on hold.
l In the earlier crash, a bus hit the JobCentre building, in John Street, on Monday. Passenger Sonia Broome told how she tried to steer it to safety after the driver was suddenly taken ill.
Stagecoach bosses say they are investigating both crashes.