Taxi driver case postponed
Cape Town - The case of taxi driver Jacob Humphreys, convicted of killing 10 children in an accident, was postponed by the Western Cape High Court on Tuesday.
Judge Robert Henney said the case was being postponed for closing arguments on Wednesday.
In the meantime, he would deliberate on arguments that had been given in aggravation and in mitigation of sentence.
On Tuesday, the State called provincial road safety programme director David Frost to the stand to present road accident statistics.
He told the court that deaths in minibus taxi accidents in the Western Cape had increased by more than 2% since 2005.
Taxis accounted for 10% of casualties in 2005 compared to 12.48% in 2010/2011.
Commuter safety secondary
He said the taxi industry had evolved to suit the needs of drivers and fleet owners rather than those of passengers. The safety of commuters was secondary to the amount of fares that could be collected by driving fast.
There had also been an increase in damage to provincial level crossing booms, with almost one incident for every working day of the year.
"This is clearly indicative of the disregard for the booms when they are down," he said.
"There is a vast disparity of the weight, mass and momentum of a train compared to a motor vehicle. It's like a fight between a heavyweight and a lightweight."
While taking children to school on August 25 2010, Humphreys overtook a row of cars at the Buttskop level crossing in Blackheath, ignored safety signals and drove over the tracks.
A train hit the taxi and 10 of the children were killed. Four others were seriously injured.
Safety not improved
Frost said safety had not been improved at Buttskop level crossing since the accident.
Henney said it was shocking that instances of damage to booms of this crossing had increased in the last year.
"What are you guys doing wrong? Why hasn't it stopped? What are you people doing to curb this?" he asked.
Frost testified that 64 instances of damage had been reported for 2011 compared with 43 in 2010.
Henney said it appeared that policing at the spot was not up to standard.
"Would this have occurred if there was effective policing? You can have all these nice plans in place but 64 incidents happened."
Frost said everything possible was being done to curb road accidents.
Cross-examining Frost, defence lawyer Johann Engelbrecht asked him what he meant by the term minibus taxis in his pre-sentencing report.
Frost explained that he was referring to minibuses that transported people between destinations at a cost.
"You do realise that Jacob Humphreys did not operate a minibus taxi service," Engelbrecht said.
He said Humphreys offered a special service of transporting children to school, rather than strangers to various pick-up and drop-off points.
"A distinction must be made between minibus taxis and these service providers... [Some parts of your report] deal exclusively with minibus taxis and minibuses."
Engelbrecht criticised Frost's inclusion of crash examples at level crossings in Zaire and Taiwan.
"There might be totally different circumstances in Zaire than in South Africa," he said.
You don’t take chances
Henney said Engelbrecht was being unfair as Frost was just trying to make a point that level crossings were dangerous.
"The point is that when you approach a level crossing with passengers you don't take chances."
Humphreys listened attentively during proceedings.
He seemed in good spirits, having greeted his family as he entered the courtroom.
Family and friends of Humphreys' victims arrived in droves, filling up all the benches.
They wore shirts with pictures of their children as well as paraphernalia highlighting railway safety.
As Humphreys exited the court, they all pushed signs silently to his face, with the words: "10 lives, 10 life sentences, no parole".