Cop and motorist in court battle

2009-11-20 00:00

A HILTON-BASED police superintendent, Jan Venter, faces a charge in the Pietermaritzburg Magistrate’s Court that he drove recklessly and negligently for having applied his brakes unexpectedly on the N3 freeway, causing a motorist behind him to take evasive action.

The incident between Venter, in a marked police vehicle, and a general manager in the Department of Economic Development, Sifiso Goodwill Chili, occurred on October 2, 2007, on an incline on the northbound carriageway going up Town Hill.

Venter pleaded not guilty to the charge before magistrate B. Dehaloo yesterday. His lawyer, Petrus Coetzee, told Chili during cross-examination that Venter believes Chili is the one who ought to be standing in the dock.

He said Venter will testify that Chili was driving “dangerously” close behind him “in fact sitting right on his tail in a dangerous manner” when Venter braked to reduce his speed “gradually” from 110 km/h to 100 km/h.

“You were the one who was breaking the law … On your own evidence the drastic steps you had to take to avoid a collision indicates that you were not keeping a safe distance,” Coetzee suggested to Chili.

Chili denied this and said the fact that he did avoid an accident was proof that this was not true. He insisted that Venter braked so hard his vehicle “almost completely stopped” in the fast lane.

Coetzee suggested to him that if someone was to “go from 100 to zero”, one would expect to hear squealing tyres and see smoke coming from the police car which would have veered from side to side.

But nothing like that happened, on Chili’s version.

Chili told the court he was driving his wife to work at Cedara when he first saw the police car ahead of him.

At first there was another vehicle in between them, but when that vehicle moved to the left into the centre lane he was directly behind Venter.

“I followed him for a while. Suddenly I saw the police vehicle braking hard and I had to react … It was an emergency. The police car almost stopped.”

He testified that he braked and swerved to the right, causing his BMW sedan to veer to the right over the yellow line.

Chili said the policeman simply continued driving “as if nothing happened”.

He said he saw the driver of another black BMW make a gesture towards Venter “with his finger” in a “disapproving” way.

Chili said he “chased” after the black BMW flashing his lights and got the driver to stop so that he could get his details. While they were discussing the incident at the Hilton off-ramp, the other motorist — a Mr S. Ngcobo — commented that he was “appalled” by the actions of the policeman.

He said Venter drove past them at the off-ramp, but did not stop. “If I had broken the law I would have expected him to stop and charge me,” he said.

Coetzee said Venter drove straight to the police station where he immediately made inquiries to establish Chili’s identity and then laid a charge against Chili.

Chili said he believes Venter charged him only as “an afterthought to cover himself” after he contacted him.

The hearing will continue on November 26.


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