Crèche owner charged

2008-08-14 00:00

THE Orient Heights woman who drove a car into 10 children at her crèche, fatally injuring one, has been charged with culpable homicide.

Roshini Devi Hemraj (44) presented herself at the Mountain Rise police station on Saturday.

She appeared in the Pietermaritzburg Magistrate’s Court this week and was released without bail.

She is expected to plead to the charge when she returns to court on Wednesday next week.

It is alleged that Hemraj, who does not have a driver’s licence, drove her husband’s vehicle into a group of children playing in the garage in her Brixham Road home on July 29.

According to police, Hemraj meant to reverse the car, but engaged the wrong gear and instead ploughed forward into the area where the children were playing.

Nine-month-old Saiyona Moonsamy died on arrival at hospital. Her parents, Anita and Sid Moonsamy, had struggled for 17 years to have a second child.

Following the tragedy, Hemraj was herself hospitalised and treated for depression.

On Tuesday in response to a query by The Witness, police said Hemraj had not yet been charged, but The Witness established yesterday that she has already made her first court appearance.

Hemraj has seen an outpouring of sympathy from the public after the incident.

A legal expert told The Witness that although so many accidents are tragic and not deliberate, legal procedures have to be followed.

“If one is negligent and causes damage even though no malice is intended, the person responsible for the accident has to live with the consequences, because it’s a criminal offence.”

Another legal source explained yesterday that culpable homicide is a crime of negligence.

It is the negligent killing of a person, while murder is intentional.

Courts are required to apply the “reasonable man test” when assessing the evidence in a culpable homicide trial. This means the court will make a ruling based on whether or not a reasonable person would have behaved in the same manner in similar circumstances.

A finding of only one percent negligence is required in order to prove culpable homicide, he added.

The decision to charge a person always remains the prerogative of the director of public prosecutions.

The Witness was told that in certain cases the state might decline to prosecute someone in respect of a “negligent death” on humanitarian grounds.

An example of this might be a mother who forgets to strap her child into the front seat of her car, resulting in the child’s death in a car accident.

“In those circumstances the director of public prosecutions might feel the mother has suffered enough punishment and trauma simply because she will have to live with what happened for the rest of her life.”

Another example is that of a father who shot his daughter when he mistook her for a car thief, after hearing the car start in the yard.

People convicted of culpable homicide are seldom sentenced to jail terms, unless the court finds them guilty of gross negligence. More usual sentences are wholly suspended sentences, fines or the imposition of correctional supervision.

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