Civilians die as gang strikes

2014-05-15 00:00

FOUR robbers and at least two bystanders were shot yesterday in a police gunfight in Pinetown so chaotic that a pedestrian was also killed by a fleeing victim.

At the end of a bloody 10 minutes between two shoot-out scenes at either end of a dramatic car chase, two civilians were dead, and four gang members wounded — including one who staggered to a second car and escaped.

The drama began at 7 am outside the Academy Brushware factory on Swanfield Road, Westmead, where police, acting on a tip-off, lay in wait for four armed robbers attempting a cash heist.

It ended near Kokkewiet Primary School on Voortrekker Road in Ashley, two kilometres away, when police shot out the tyres of the suspects’ gold Toyota Corolla, causing it to crash.

A key police source told The Witness that they were forced to confront the robbers ahead of their crime due to information that they intended to murder the employee who was opening the factory, before stealing cash. But robbers opened fire on officers as they approached, in a spree that saw two employees shot. One died at the scene.

One man — driving a Toyota Tazz — was dropping his girlfriend off for work at the moment of the shooting.

An eyewitness told The Witness the car was hit and the man “panicked”, and sped off, only to hit a pedestrian about 150 metres away at the intersection of Gillitts and Swanfield. The pedestrian was killed instantly, while the woman was hospitalised with injuries from the collision.

The witness, a factory employee, said, “His Tazz was riddled with bullets. He panicked. He ran a man over and killed him on the scene …”

At the scene, The Witness counted 16 cones marking spent cartridges. However, another officer at the scene said there were more than 20 spent cartridges collected. During the shoot-out, five colleagues working for Academy, who were standing under a tree waiting for the factory to open, tried to flee the spot.

The robbers sped off with police in pursuit down Swanfield into Richmond, Pinehill, Mariannhill then into Voortrekker Street, where their car crashed.

Ashley residents — some making their way to work and others to school — ran for cover as the gang crashed their car on Voortrekker Street.

Provincial police spokesperson Colonel Jay Naicker said the arrested suspects were aged between 34 and 39. He said they attempted to rob a factory.

“Three suspects were arrested in Voortrekker Street in Ashley. A Z88 pistol with two magazines and 30 rounds of ammunition were found from the suspects,” he said.

“The one who fled the scene left his CZ 9 mm pistol with 15 rounds of ammunition behind. They will appear in the Pinetown Magistrate’s Court soon. The matter is under investigation.”

Another police source said, “The area was staked out and just before 7 am a car fitting the description we were given arrived and parked not far from the targeted factory. When police approached, the occupants opened fire and [we] retaliated.”

A manager at Academy Brushware, who asked not to be named, disputed that his factory was the original target, “Although the shooting happened not far from us, we were not the targets of the robbers. It’s so sad that our employees were caught in the cross-fire.”

A neighbour who lives close to the scene, Daan Cornelius, said it was “pure luck” that no parents or children were parked near the front of the school when the shooting erupted.

Justin Bosse, head of the Ashley Residents Neighbourhood Watch, said he heard the shoot-out from his house and raced to the scene to find “a hell of a lot of blood”.

Bosse said one of the wounded suspects escaped by climbing into a second car, driven by someone believed to be a fifth accomplice.

“An eyewitness told me one suspect fell out of the car, wounded, ran off and climbed into a second vehicle, a white car. He was free to climb in so this did not appear to be a hijacking,” he said.

“I just grabbed the bulletproof [vest] and the weapon and rushed over — at that stage, three suspects were wounded and arrested, and one was at large. The SAPS take a lot of flak, but this incident was proof that they are taking on the toughest gangs.”

Naicker said the incidents involving bystanders caught in the cross-fire would be referred to the Independent Police Investigative Directorate.

“His Tazz was riddled with bullets. He panicked. He ran a man over and killed him on the scene. I suspect the pedestrian was also on his way to work.”

At the scene, The Witness counted 16 cones marking spent cartridges. However, another officer at the scene said there were more than 20 spent cartridges collected. During the shoot-out, five colleagues working for Academy, who were standing under the tree waiting for the factory to open, tried to flee the cross-fire.

The robbers sped off with police in pursuit down Swanfield into Richmond, Pinehill, Mariannhill then into Voortrekker Street, where their car crashed.

Ashley residents, - some making their way to work and others to school - ran for cover as the gang crashed their car on Voortrekker Road.

Provincial police spokesperson Colonel Jay Naicker said the arrested suspects were aged between 34 and 39. He said they attempted to rob a factory.

“Three suspects were arrested in Voortrekker Street in Ashley - A Z88 pistol with two magazines and 30 rounds of ammunition were found from the suspects,” he said. “The one who fled the scene left his CZ 9mm pistol with 15 rounds of ammunition behind. They (suspects) will appear in the Pinetown Magistrate’s Court soon. The matter is under investigation.”

Another police source said: “The area was staked out and just before 7 am a car fitting the description we were given arrived and parked not far from the targeted factory. When police approached the occupants opened fire, and (we) retaliated.”

A manager at Academy Brushware, who asked not to be named, disputed that his factory was the original target: “Although the shooting happened not far from us, we were not the targets of the robbers. It’s so sad that our employees were caught in the cross-fire.”

A neighbour who lives close to the scene, Daan Cornelius, said it was “pure luck” that no parents or children were parked near the spot, at the front of the school, when the shooting erupted.

Justin Bosse, head of the Ashley Residents Neighbourhood Watch, said he heard the shootout from his house, and raced to the scene to find “a hell of a lot of blood”.

Bosse said one of the wounded suspects escaped by climbing into a second car, driven by someone believed to be a fifth accomplice.

“An eye witness told me one suspect fell out of the car, wounded, ran off and climbed into a second vehicle, a white car. He was free to climb in so this did not appear to be a hijacking,” he said. “I just grabbed the bullet proof (vest) and the weapon and rushed over – at that stage, three suspects were wounded and arrested, and one was at large. The SAPS take a lot of flak, but this incident was proof that they are taking on the toughest gangs.”

Naicker said the incidents involving bystanders caught in the cross fire would be referred to the Independent Police Investigative Directorate.

Additional reporting by Rowan Philp

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