It was an emotional day in court for the Aston family as they learned that Jack Aston would be free to leave jail and return to Ballarat for the first time since December last year.
After arriving home, Mr Aston took a moment to call The Courier and talk about how he was feeling coming out of jail and being reunited with his family at his Brown Hill house of more than 25 years - as well as a message for the support he has received from the Ballarat community.
Here is what he said:
It feels so good to be home. I would like to thank everyone so much for their support. It was just wonderful to come through the front door. My mother's coming tomorrow - she's been ill. My dad passed away just before I was sentenced and that was hard to cope with. I haven't had a chance to grieve. I really do need the space and time, I have got to learn to come back down from that heightened sense of awareness you have when you get out of prison. I would just like to thank everyone in Ballarat for helping me get through this. My wife is an incredible woman, so is Meg my daughter, and Ben, my son, has been amazing. To stick with me, and help me get through, they have been sensational. I am just looking forward to being back with my family.Jack Aston
Read below for the story of how the lives of Jack Aston and his family changed so suddenly.
TIMELINE: 1,330 days of heartache and pain
February 22, 2016: The day of the crash
It began as just another day at work for Jack Aston, a hot late summer's day, as he ferried 14 passengers between the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre and a hotel on the St Kilda Road. He had begun earlier in the day, taking V/Line passengers from Ballarat to Melbourne.
The route, which he was unfamiliar with, took the bus via the Montague Street Bridge, which at 3m high is the lowest in the metropolitan network and a notorious accident blackspot. At 10.22am, the 3.6-metre high Gold Bus he was driving collided with the bridge while travelling at 56 km per hour. The impact pushed the front and roof of the bus back to the fifth row of seats.
Eleven passengers were taken to hospital, six of them with serious injuries including spinal and skull fractures, lacerations and abrasions.
One image shows a bloodied Mr Aston slumped on the ground just after the crash.
October 19, 2016: Facing court
Mr Aston faced court at the Melbourne Magistrates Court charged with negligent driving and causing serious injury.
October 22, 2018: Trial and guilty verdict
After a two-week trial at the County Court in Melbourne, Jack Aston was found guilty of six charges of negligently causing serious injury. Judge Bill Stuart granted him bail ahead of sentencing.
December 17, 2018: Sentenced to more than five years
Jack Aston was sentenced to five years and three months in jail, with a non-parole period of two-and-a- half years.
While Judge Stuart accepted that Mr Aston was a man of excellent character who had contributed in all sorts of way to the community and was suffering genuine remorse, he said it was "astonishing" Mr Aston had not seen the low clearance of the bridge.
Despite Mr Aston's glowing character references from the then Gold Bus company director Donald McKenzie, as well as his family and friends, he received a punitive jail term that shocked his supporters. Judge Bill Stuart said that deterrence was the "principal sentencing factor". Mr Aston's licence was also suspended for three years.
At the sentencing, his family and loved ones wept and cried out to him: "love you dad", "we're always here for you Jack" and "you're a good man".
December 19, 2018: Family reveals shock at sentence
The family spoke of their shock at the long sentence handed down to Mr Aston. "It has changed him as a person," his daughter Meg told The Courier. Ms Aston also said that her father did not believe them initially when he was told nobody had died. Mr Aston did not speak for two days after the crash, she said.
Wendy Aston also said that the family planned to appeal the sentencing.
December 21, 2018:'Bring back our Jack' campaign starts
It has changed him as a personMeg Aston
The #freejack campaign begins to emerge as the family rallies around to build awareness of the Mr Aston's situation. Meg Aston organises a rally in support of her father - and to campaign for changes to the accident blackspot - under the Montague Street Bridge itself.
The family says they will go and visit Mr Aston for his birthday and on Christmas Day.
January 2019: Appeal lodged
The family lodged the appeal against Mr Aston's jail term, after requesting an extension to the deadline of 28 days as they waited for the court to provide documents.
February 2019: Community writes letters to Jack Aston in jail
Support and sympathy for the campaign builds among the local community, with people in writing to Mr Aston in jail as a show of support.
"Hope to see you home soon again where you belong mate," one letter reads.
April 2019: Attorney General pressured
To keep the pressure on, Mr Aston's family asked supporters to write to the Victoria Attorney General in protest against the sentence handed down to Mr Aston.
From Mr Aston tells of how thankful he is for the community support in the six months since his jailing. In a letter of thanks to Gold Bus, he says: "My faith in good people and the hope of good things to come will keep me strong."
July 30: Date set for appeal
The date for Mr Aston's appeal is set for October 7. "We are all feeling totally relieved. I spoke to Jack today and he feels the same," Wendy Aston said.
October 7: Convictions overturned
My faith in good people and the hope of good things to come will keep me strongJack Aston
There were six grounds for the appeal, but ultimately only one was required. The three appeal judges said prosecutors in the original trial had made a mistake by not raising the possibility of a less serious alternative charge of dangerous driving. Mr Aston was convicted instead of six counts of dangerous driving causing serious injury.
The maximum penalty is double that of the less serious charge, so he will be re-sentenced.
One of the appeal judges, Justice Phillip Priest, was sharply critical of the oversight at the original trial. "This is basic trial practice," he said. "I'd expect a prosecutor to know, defence to know and, with all respect, the judge should have known."
October 14: Freedom at last: Jack Aston is released from jail
The Aston family hears the news they have been waiting for. Jack Aston is to walk free from jail that morning. There are emotional scenes in court as Mr Aston's wife Wendy weeps with joy, then the Aston family embrace.
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