Passenger describes fatal Christmas Eve bus crash

2008-11-03 00:00

A passenger in an SA Roadlink bus that crashed into the bridge opposite Liberty Midlands Mall on Christmas Eve in 2006, killing 12 people, described the horror accident in the Pietermaritzburg Regional Court yesterday.

Isaac Mpitshe Baipone (46) was testifying at the trial of bus driver, Charles William Vaudin (36), who has pleaded not guilty to 12 counts of culpable homicide.

Vaudin alleges the right rear tyre of the bus burst before the collision, causing him to lose control of the vehicle.

He maintains that faced with the sudden emergency he took all reasonable steps to bring the bus under control.

Baipone said he spent four months in hospital with a leg injury following the crash and still does not have the full use of his right leg.

He told regional magistrate S. Mngomezulu that he was chatting to an elderly woman passenger, remarking that the bus was driving “at high speed” just before the crash.

He said he called his wife at about 4 am to tell her the bus was near Pietermaritzburg. She was due to meet him in Durban.

Shortly afterwards he felt a “braking” movement and passengers “moved forward”. The next moment he heard a loud bang as the bus hit the bridge and he ended up with his leg stuck through a hole in the side of the bus.

Passengers started “to scream and cry” he said.

He was sitting near the back on the upper deck.

Under cross-examination by defence advocate Barry Roux SC, Baipone agreed that he could not state at what speed the bus was travelling just before the collision. He was asked to estimate a speed between 80 and 200 km/h.

Roux said expert evidence has been led proving conclusively that the bus was not speeding excessively and was in fact travelling at “more or less 100 km/h” when the crash happened.

He also questioned Baipone as to whether he had heard the bus strike the railing at the roadside before it hit the bridge.

Baipone replied that he had told the court what he could remember.

It was suggested to him that the movement he described as “braking” might have been caused by a tyre deflating, as experts had said there was no evidence of “harsh braking” before the impact.

“I cannot comment on that,” Baipone responded initially. Later he said that what he had felt was the application of brakes and “not the bursting of a tyre”.

The passengers killed included a 60-year-old woman, Isabel Barbara Swartz, and a four-year-old boy, Samkelo Lungelo Mathonsi.

Also killed in the crash were six other women — Antoinette Storck (22), Anna Ndaba (32), Lungile Hlomuka (22), Bongi Cele (47), Dafney Twala (39), Thokozani Dimba — two girls, Nomhlekhabo Ndaba (8) and Krystle Storck (14), and two men, Samkelo Lutshaba (20) and Sifiso Nzuza (24).

The case is continuing.

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