Driver blames brakes

2011-11-02 00:00

THE driver of the taxi in the crash that saw the most deaths in Pietermaritzburg’s history, Khululeka Bongani Gwala (23), has claimed that a police officer told paramedics at the scene not to treat him and suggested he “should have died”.

Gwala faces 15 charges of murder, four of attempted murder and one charge of reckless and negligent driving, following a collision near Copesville on September 30.

Gwala made his claim in an affidavit handed to Magistrate Linda Lewis yesterday in support of his application for bail, which is being opposed by the state.

Under cross examination by Gwala’s attorney, Anthony Irons, yesterday the investigating officer, Lieutenant Sizwe Makhathini, said he was unaware that anyone told the paramedics not to treat Gwala.

“When I arrived on the scene at about 10 am I was told the accused had been taken to Northdale hospital for treatment … People were asking where the driver was and it was reported that he had been taken by police van to Northdale hospital,” he said.

Makhathini denied Gwala’s allegations that his family was denied access to him after the accident and that his constitutional rights, including his right to silence and legal representation, were not explained to him.

Makhathini said Gwala had wanted to plead guilty to the charges from the outset and had made a confession to a police officer (Captain Bobby Naicker) of the organised crime unit on October 2.

Following his first court appearance in the magistrate’s court on October 3, he had been taken to the high court to consult with a legal aid representative.

“It was only when he was asked to sign his statement that he changed his mind,” Makhathini said.

He denied defence suggestions that he had tried to “make” Gwala plead guilty and said the decision to take Gwala to the high court for a possible guilty plea was done on the instructions of the director of public prosecutions.

Makhathini strongly denied allegations that Gwala had straight away raised a defence that the brakes of his kombi had been faulty.

“He never raised that defence with me,” he said.

Makhathini agreed, however, that it emerged in reports compiled by experts from the SAPS accident unit who examined the kombi taxi after the crash, that the brakes were “worn out”.

However, he said the evidence did not suggest that Gwala ever used his brakes, and Gwala had not claimed after the collision that the brakes failed.

Witnesses said Gwala — whose taxi was overloaded by carrying 19 passengers (instead of a permitted 15) — overtook a stationary line of vehicles that were “bumper to bumper” on a blind rise, Makhathini said.

He was allegedly travelling at a speed of about 120 kilometres per hour. To avoid an oncoming truck he had allegedly tried to re-enter the bumper to bumper traffic in the slow lane, but hit a car and then veered back into the path of the truck.

A collision took place, the kombi flipped onto its side and was pushed over an embankment and part of the truck landed on top of it.

Thirteen occupants of the taxi died at the scene and two others in hospital. Four were rescued and two of these are still in hospital today. Replying to questions by prosecuter Rene Padayachee, Makhathini said he was opposed to bail because Gwala might be tempted to evade trial if released, and his (Gwala’s) safety also could not be guaranteed.

His release would “shock” the community, he said.

“No-one would expect a person with a driver’s licence to overtake in the area where the accused overtook traffic,” he said.

The bail application will proceed on November 10.

• ingrido@witness.co.za

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