Knysna bus had numerous defects
Cape Town - A team investigating a recent bus crash that killed 14 children and a driver has found the vehicle involved had a range of defects, despite being given a roadworthy certificate.
Evidence of "alleged criminal activity" was found at the TJ Motor Vehicle Testing Station, which tested and certified the Tata bus on 14 April 2011, Western Cape transport MEC Robin Carlisle told reporters in Cape Town on Tuesday.
"I am in possession of two affidavits from members of the departmental investigation team evidencing to alleged criminal activity by [the owner of the station] in his capacity as proprietor and examiner of vehicles at TJ," Carlisle said.
"This represents non-compliance with the National Road Traffic Act, 1996 and the National Road Traffic Regulations of 2000."
Chrisfred Naude, head of the team investigating the accident, had opened a case of corruption against the owner of TJ's at the George police station on behalf of the Western Cape transport department.
The bus plunged off a low bridge into the swollen Kassat se Drift River near Knysna on August 24, killing 14 schoolchildren and their driver. The children were pupils at the Rheenendal Primary School and aged between 7 and 14.
Carlisle said one defect identified by investigators included "excessive play" on the gear lever, making gear selection difficult.
"Only on his 5th attempt was a team member able to select the 1st or reverse gears," Carlisle said.
Upon removal of the engine cover an investigator noticed a bracket "loose with one bolt missing and the second unscrewed up to the point that it was fouling the steering pump".
Carlisle said the bus's slack adjuster, which affected the brake adjustment interval, had "probably not been adjusted for some time before the crash".
Investigators further found the right rear booster bracket was bent and that the booster push rod pin was "wearing into the booster body".
Another defect was that the vehicle load sensing valve had been bypassed.
"During inspection of the cross-members for cracks it was established ... that the load sensing valve was bypassed and pivot control is seized and not connected to the axle, and that the connecting rod is also missing," Carlisle said.
"Further investigation under a laboratory condition will beyond doubt confirm that it has been disconnected for over 133 days."
Carlisle said when Naude asked who had brought the bus in for "the alleged roadworthy test" on April 14, 2011, the owner and his cashier "repeatedly changed their stories".
Carlisle said he had personally" shut down TJ Motor Vehicle Testing Station, and the department was confiscating all the company's records for the investigation.
"If vehicle testing stations issue fraudulent roadworthy certificates then that chain of safety snaps - too often only to be found out when there is a terrible crash that kills more innocents."