Death bus driver blames tyre burst

2008-07-02 00:00

The driver of a SA Roadlink bus that smashed into the bridge opposite Liberty Midlands Mall on Christmas Eve 2006, killing 12 passengers, yesterday pleaded not guilty to 12 counts of culpable homicide in the Pietermaritzburg Regional Court.

The driver, Charles William Vaudin (36), claims the right rear tyre of the bus burst before the collision, causing him to lose control of the vehicle. Faced with this “sudden emergency”, he said, he took all reasonable steps to bring the bus back under control.

The passengers who died ranged in age from a 60-year-old woman, Isabel Barbara Swartz, to a four-year-old boy, Samkelo Lungelo Mathonsi. Six other women — Antoinette Storck (22), Anna Ndaba (32), Lungile Hlomuka (22), Bongi Cele (47), Dafney Twala (39) and Thokozani Dimba — and two girls, Nomhlekhabo Ndaba (8) and Krystle Storck (14), were also killed, as were two men, Samkelo Lutshaba (20) and Sifiso Nzuza (24).

Peter Sim, a qualified civil engineer and owner of Tectra Technologies (formerly Automative Software Solutions), told regional magistrate S. Mngomezulu that his company had installed an on-board computer in SA Roadlink’s bus fleet, enabling it to track the position of buses and monitor factors such as speed and engine revs.

Sim said the data retrieved from the computer showed that in the last three minutes before the crash the bus accelerated to a maximum road speed of 107 km/h.

There was a sudden “harsh deceleration” before the impact, and at the actual point of impact the bus was travelling at 73 km/h. It then stopped.

Sim agreed with Vaudin’s advocate, Barry Roux, SC, that the speed pattern did not seem to be consistent with the driver having fallen asleep.

If that had been the case, one would see a gradual reduction in speed before the crash, instead of the sudden deceleration as in this case, which indicated the probable sudden application of brakes.

Sim also agreed that there was no indication that the driver drove recklessly or at excessive speed throughout the journey.

The court was told the data showed the bus drove faster than 110 km/h for a total of one hour, one minute and 34 seconds during its three-and-a-half hours’ travel time, and the top speed reached — once only — was 132 km/h.

That speed was recorded two hours before the crash.

Responding to state advocate Sandesh Sankar, Sim said the computer system would not reveal if the driver drove in a “zig-zag” manner or overtook vehicles.

The case will resume on November 2 because an expert state witness due to testify is overseas at present.

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