‘Faulty brakes are no excuse’

2011-11-11 00:00

FAULTY brakes cannot be used as an excuse for the accident that claimed the lives of 15 people at Copesville on September 30; the reality was that the driver was travelling on the wrong side of the road.

This was the submission made yesterday by state prosecutor Rene Padayachee, who urged Pietermaritzburg magistrate Linda Lewis not to grant Khululeka Bongani Gwala (23) bail.

Gwala’s attorney, Anthony Irons, argued that he is entitled to his freedom as well as “his day in court”.

Judgment in the bail application was postponed until Tuesday.

Irons urged the court to consider the fact that Gwala has a valid defence that the taxi’s brakes failed, and this could result in an acquittal or a reduction of the charges to culpable homicide.

He submitted that Gwala will stand his trial if given bail and can go and live with his parents in Port Shepstone.

Irons said Gwala will contest the admissibility of a confession he made after the incident when he stands trial, and said “warning bells” should ring about the fact that it was made to a police officer rather than a magistrate.

But Padayachee urged the court to put itself in the shoes of people who have no option but to take public transport daily and the 15 passengers (and their families) who boarded Gwala’s taxi on the fateful morning “not knowing they would not see the end of the day”.

Concerning the accused’s stated defence that the brakes of the taxi failed, Padayachee said this did not hold water and was an “afterthought”.

“The facts are that the accused was on the wrong side of the road when the collision happened … In that particular area you cannot drive at 120 km per hour in peak traffic and not endanger lives.”

Padayachee referrred to evidence by the investigating officer, Lieutenant Sizwe Makhathini, that witnesses alleged the overloaded taxi travelled at that speed and overtook “bumper-to-bumper traffic” on a blind rise.

She submitted that the state case against Gwala is strong and that he will be tempted to abscond if he is released because of the seriousness of the charges and the likely outcry by the community.

She said Gwala chose not to give evidence in support of his bail application, but merely submitted an affidavit, which “cannot be cross-examined”.

She added that his allegations that his constitutional rights were violated and that he was abused — allegedly by a policeman who had suggesting to paramedics that they should not treat him — were not reported to the authorities.

If he was granted bail and the community decided to “take the law into their own hands” the state would not be held responsible.

Gwala has been charged with 15 counts of murder, four of attempted murder and a charge of reckless and negligent driving arising from the collision.

The state alleges the taxi, carrying 19, instead of the permitted 15 passengers, overtook a line of stationary vehicles at speed.

Gwala allegedly tried to re-enter the traffic when confronted by an oncoming truck, but could not do so and hit a car. The taxi veered into the path of the truck and the resultant collision flipped the kombi over an embankment and the truck landed on top of it.

• ingrido@witness.co.za

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