Mall crash 'just metres from calamity'
Jonathan Faurie, The Witness
Pietermaritzburg - Tragic as the Liberty Midlands Mall truck accident on Monday night was, it could have been worse. Explosively so.
Luck played a hand when the speeding truck missed crashing into a storeroom of gas tanks by less than a metre.
Instead, it went into Absa Bank’s forex section, leaving a neat, square hole in the wall.
“Had the truck slammed into the gate less than a metre to the right of where it went through the wall there would have been a disaster,” said mall manager Cassy Fourie. “That is where the mall keeps spare tanks of gas that the restaurants use. The fatality rate would have been very high.”
James Whitby, one of many onlookers on Tuesday morning when police, emergency services and the fire department cleared the mess, remarked: “Imagine if the accident had happened at 10:00 [and not 22:00], when the parking lot would have been full of cars.”
The clean-up operation began at 05:45 and finished just after 21:30.
Police confirmed that they would open a case of culpable homicide and reckless driving against the driver, but by Tuesday evening no arrests had been made.
Spokesperson Captain Dolf Otto of the police's Accident Investigation Unit told The Witness the driver was being treated for minor injuries at St Anne’s Hospital.
“We checked his blood-alcohol level and he was not under the influence at the time of the accident,” said Otto, who could not release the names of the driver and his co-driver.
Four people injured in the accident were still in hospital on Tuesday night, but no word could be obtained on their conditions.
Otto said the driver had a valid licence.
After crashing through a gate into the mall’s parking lot from Chatterton Road, the truck knocked down trees, crashed into five cars and killed pedestrian Alice Jogessar before hitting the mall’s wall.
Jogessar, a 69-year-old former teacher, was a pillar in the Pietermaritzburg community and wore many coats: a mother, a humanitarian, a teacher, an estate agent, a people’s person and much more.
She had been dining with a friend and went to the Milky Lane for ice creams before walking into the parking lot, where they saw the runaway truck and heard a loud noise.
“It was so loud I thought it was a thunderstorm,” her friend told The Witness.
“It was too fast and the truck took everything that was in its way.”
The widow leaves three children.
Initial speculation was that failed brakes might have caused the accident. This surprised Kerry Lennon, Germiston-based owner of Magimax Manufacturing, whose truck it was.
“Before any of our trucks embark on a long journey they go through full inspections,” said Lennon, who added the company was conducting its own investigation into the accident.
“If the truck was unroadworthy it would not have been on the road,”
Had the truck’s brakes failed, the driver could have used a number of arrester beds on the highway to slow down.
Manny de Sousa, who works in the road maintenance division of the South African National Roads Agency Limited, said that all arrester beds on the route are maintained on a daily basis.
Morning visitors to the mall were surprised at the sight of the truck stuck into the wall and the mess around the scene, saying this was something that had never happened before.
Kelly Jacquire, an Absa client, was on her way to her branch in the mall.
“I just thought, oh my God, when I saw one of the crashed cars and then we saw the truck through the brick wall,” she said. “It was unbelievable.”
When the truck was finally towed out of the hole it punched into the wall, it showed little damage. Workers just removed bricks that had fallen on the cab’s roof.
Afterwards, a coffee shop in the mall offered free cups of coffee to people involved in the recovery operation.
A model helicopter, equipped with a camera, hovered around.
Police have appealed to the public for information on the accident.
Witnesses can contact Warrant Officer Brett Rasmussen at 071?607?0128.
Facebook users show concern
Comments on the Witness Facebook page on Tuesday expressed concern for the truck driver.
Debbie McIlroy said: “OMG what speed was he going at! Driver’s foot must have been on accelerator to keep up at speed! I saw pics of his entrance he was on a flat road!! And hit fence first then 7 cars! Something doesn’t add up!”
Cindy McCarthy said: “Maybe no [brakes], poor guy, imagine how awful this was for him as well! Unless drunk driving or speeding is to be confirmed, I feel for him as well! I would have bailed!!!!
Jes Ladybug Bedingfield said: “I’m pretty sure this driver didn’t intend on doing this, it seems very likely that his brakes failed. I’m sure if he was sleeping, he would’ve woken up at least after the fence …”
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