Faulty brakes blamed

2016-09-07 06:00
                                                 PHOTO: INGRID OELLERMANN Lungile Mthimkhulu in court.

PHOTO: INGRID OELLERMANN Lungile Mthimkhulu in court.

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THE trial in which bakkie driver Lungile Mthimkhulu (32) is charged with negligently causing the death of eight primary schoolchildren in Imbali focused on the mechanical condition of the vehicle when it crashed.

The bakkie was transporting pupils from Fezokhule Primary school when it veered out of control and smashed into a house at Imbali on the afternoon of January 28, 2015.

The children who died were between seven and 11 years old.

Mthimkhulu, who admits she was driving the vehicle at the time of the accident, has pleaded not guilty to eight counts of culpable homicide before regional court magistrate Bhekizitha Phoswa.

She alleges that an “unforeseen mechanical failure of the braking mechanism” of the bakkie caused the crash and not negligence on her part.

An engineering forensic analyst with the SAPS, Captain Tshimologo Mogwera, and Warrant Officer Michael Roberts of the SAPS Accident Unit in Pietermaritzburg were two mechanical experts called to give evidence for the state.

Mogwera told the court that when examining various braking components referred to him he had found the brake pad linings (on the brake pads) to have completely “disintegrated”. He said in his opinion this had happened “in an instant”, and there were no signs of preliminary fatigue or damage prior to the accident happening. In his view the damage would have occurred on impact.

Defence advocate Shane Mathews suggested to him, however, that the “brake pad failure” happened when Mthimkhulu tried to apply brakes.

He said according to Mthimkhulu’s version, when she pushed the brakes she “heard a noise like something snapping” and the brake pedal stayed down. She was travelling down a steep hill at the time.

“There are no brake marks on the road or on any other surface. This can show two things. Either she wanted to commit suicide and kill everyone who was with her in the motor vehicle, or she braked and the brakes did not engage … nothing happened. It was an instantaneous, catastrophic failure of the braking system,” Mathews suggested.

Mogwera told the court he was not aware of the facts of the case but had been asked to examine the material sent to him and express an opinion. The material included components of the braking system as well as a tyre. As far as the tyre was concerned he had found it to be in good condition.

Aside from the culpable homicide charges, Mthimkhulu faces alternative counts of reckless and negligent driving or driving without consideration for other road users.

The case is proceeding.

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