Man cheats death

2013-01-23 00:00

ON the same day that a Pietermaritzburg pensioner was killed in a freak accident, another cheated death — twice.

Fritz Vermaak first escaped narrowly when a municipal refuse truck toppled over and crushed his bakkie at the New England Road landfill site.

Vermaak (66) was sitting in his bakkie as the truck began toppling over. He was swept out of harm’s way by his employee, Abraham Elioti, only to land on the ground and suffer a heart attack.

He survived this too and related his harrowing experience from his bed in Grey’s Hospital yesterday.

Vermaak believes that his life was spared so that he could highlight the “terrible” conditions at the landfill site. “It is a miracle that I managed to escape. I only hope the municipality will do something about making the site safer,” he said.

Vermaak said there was a narrow space used by all vehicles, including municipal refuse trucks, to access the dump site, with little room to manoeuvre.

“I have been dumping rubble there over the last few days and it is very stressful because of the attitude of people. They blow their hooters, tempers flare because there is not enough space and everybody wants to dump their rubbish.”

The accident happened on Monday afternoon.

Earlier that morning, 72-year-old Mohammed Sayad died in Bombay Road, Northdale, when a wall collapsed on him.

Vermaak lives just a street away from Fir Tree Avenue in Cleland, where a runaway truck smashed into a house last Friday.

The pensioner said he owed his life to the heroic action of Elioti, who was outside the bakkie and saw the truck falling over.

“All I know is that I saw him jump, grab me in a rugby tackle and throw me away from the bakkie. He injured his leg trying to save me.”

Elioti was treated at Northdale Hospital and sent home, but could not speak to The Witness yesterday because he was in pain and was sedated.

Vermaak said he was aware of a truck pulling up next to him.

“I did not know it was a tip truck, and anyway the driver should have known better because the ground was uneven. It should have been obvious that once the tipping mechanisms started working, the truck would topple over,” he said.

Vermaak suggested that the rubbish be flattened so that trucks could empty their contents at a different spot, away from other vehicles. He believes that much illegal dumping takes place in the city because people want to avoid the stress of going to the landfill site.

His family say they are furious at the way the municipality treated him.

His son Louis said a site official told them the municipality would cover his medical costs.

“We rushed my father to St Anne's, the nearest hospital. While we were there, we got another call from the legal adviser at the municipality, who said that the municipality did not have cover for personal injury at the dump site,” Louis said.

His father did not have medical aid, so they ensured he was stabilised before taking him to Grey’s Hospital.

Vermaak remains worried about how Elioti, who is in his twenties and supports his mother and an extended family, would earn a living.

“I was supplementing my income because my pension was inadequate and he was supporting a family. Now we have no bakkie and no means of earning a living. I don’t know what we are going to do.”

Msunduzi municipal spokesperson Brian Zuma described the incident as an accident.

He said the environment at the site “can sometimes pose a danger”, which is why there was a notice warning users that they do so at their own risk. “Should there be a claim against the municipality, our legal division will deal with and advise on the matter.”

Zuma said the incident was being investigated.

“For some time now, discussions on a new landfill site have been ongoing, looking to the future, but the current one has a few more years in its lifespan,” he said.

• nalini@witness.co.za

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