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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Belgian Driver Pardoned for Belarus Crash




MINSK, Belarus -- A Belgian bus driver, jailed in Belarus over a crash that killed four "Chernobyl children," walked free Wednesday after President Alexander Lukashenko pardoned him, the prison director said.


Willy Sollie had served 15 months of his original eight-year term, later reduced to five years.


The director, Nikolai Khaitorov, said Sollie was met upon his release by diplomats from the Belgian Embassy in Russia and Belgian reporters.


Sollie was pardoned as part of a nationwide amnesty marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Soviet republic of Belarussia. The country of Belarus has been independent since the Soviet Union broke up in 1991.


"The plea for mercy was presented by us, workers of the prison, because we saw his remorse, his good behavior and how he suffered from the language barrier," Khaitorov said.


A Belarussian court sentenced Sollie, then 57, in November 1997 after the double-decker bus he was driving crashed in wet conditions.


The court said Sollie drove at 90 kilometers per hour, above the legal speed limit of 70 kilometers per hour.


His coach was one of a convoy of four taking children from areas affected by the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident in Ukraine to hospitals abroad for treatment.


Sollie's sentence had been reduced to five years after he appealed to Lukashenko because of poor health.


Sollie was expected to return to Belgium.