Driver blames faulty brakes

2013-07-12 00:00

THE man at the wheel of a taxi that collided with a truck near Copesville in 2011, killing 15 people, maintained that the accident was caused by faulty brakes, and not because he was speeding in the oncoming lane.

Khululeka Gwala (23), who has been charged with 15 counts of murder and four of attempted murder arising from the collision, was testifying at the Pietermaritzburg high court yesterday.

He also insisted that he had shouted out a warning to his passengers before the accident. “Brake failure caused the accident, as I tried several times to brake and they did not work,” he said.

Gwala explained that he was driving along Bhambatha Road at 60 km an hour, travelling in fifth gear, when a truck in front of him suddenly slowed down.

“I was trying to avoid an accident [with the truck] when I swerved to the oncoming traffic lanes. A car in the oncoming carriageway had to change lanes and just after it passed, the truck knocked my passenger doors,” he said.

Gwala said the taxi’s brake pads were fixed by his uncle, who also worked for Nonhlanhla Mpulo, the owner of the taxi. He said second-hand brake pads were used in the repair.

Gwala admitted that the taxi was overloaded.

State Advocate Candy Kander put it to him that he had left his regular conductor at home that day because he wanted to make more money for himself. Gwala denied this, saying he had a relative in the taxi who collected fares that day.

He said after the accident, police at the scene did not want him to receive medical assistance even though he was also injured.

“Police asked who was the driver and I said it was me. They then instructed paramedics not to help me with treatment. They took me to the police van. I was bleeding. One of them said I should have died in that accident,” he said, adding that he was saddened by the accident as one of his relatives was among the dead.

When it was pointed out to him that the passengers who survived had testified that he had not shouted out a warning to them, and that expert witness Laurence Merchant had said the brakes had definitely not failed on that day, Gwala said they had all lied in court.

Gwala’s uncle, Philani Mthethwa, testified that he was employed by Mpulo at the time and was asked to examine the brakes weeks before the accident.

He admitted using second-hand pads to fix the taxi, which was done at a taxi rank.

The defence and state are expected to make their closing arguments today.

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