Killer bus: driver freed

2010-09-11 00:00

STEPHANUS Baartman (48), the driver of the SA Roadlink bus that was involved in a multiple vehicle accident that killed 11 people in Hibberdene on the KwaZulu-Natal south coast on December 16, 2008, was acquitted of 11 charges of culpable homicide at the Scottburgh Regional Court yesterday.

Magistrate A.M. Mfela said the state’s case was not proven beyond reasonable doubt.

He said that, while evidence revealed that Baartman had only slept for three to four hours out of 30 hours on the journey from Cape Town, and that Baartman had admitted that he “could have been fatigued”, the state failed to prove that this contributed to the accident.

The bus was travelling from Cape Town to Durban and had stopped in Port Elizabeth, East London, Mthata and Kokstad before the accident occurred at 12.30 pm on the N2 freeway at the R102 intersection near Hibberdene, about 100 km south of Durban.

The accident caused a huge outcry of disapproval for the bus company, after a string of fatal accidents involving its buses.

Baartman told the court that he was supposed to take on an assis­tant driver at Port Elizabeth, but the man was not there.

Much the same occurred at East London, but he was able to recruit a driver who drove to Mthatha while Baartman slept. Baartman then replaced the assistant after a few hours and continued driving until the accident occurred.

The bus hit the back right end of a truck travelling ahead of it in the same direction, causing the bus to swerve to the right, where it crossed onto the south-bound highway and into an oncoming Camry.

Six family members in the Camry were killed on impact.

Mfela said the second collision could account for the deaths of at least five passengers on the bus, most of whom were sitting on the upper deck into which the car had slammed.

At the time of the accident, police spokesperson Captain Zandra Wiid said “the car was flung onto the Hibberdene on-ramp 20 metres below and the bus came to a standstill on its side on the bank”.

Mfela said he felt that defence advocate B. Roux’s contention that the bus was overtaking the truck when the truck moved to the right was more probable in light of the evidence given by the team’s expert witness.

He said he found several of state prosecutor C. Rossouw’s witnesses less than convincing.

Baartman told Weekend Witness that while he was relieved at the verdict and that it endorsed his own belief in his innocence, he greatly regretted the terrible loss of lives, injuries and trauma caused.

Baartman will more than likely be re-employed by SA Roadlink after being acquitted on 11 charges of culpable homicide and one of reckless and negligent driving, according to Joey Mushwana, chief operating officer for the bus company.

“We are satisfied with the outcome of the court case,” said Mushwana.

He added that although he intends to re-employ Baartman, it will not be as a driver.

“We want to keep him on in a lighter capacity such as selling tickets; but we can’t just throw him away.”

Mushwana is confident that SA Roadlink’s services are more than adequate when it comes to safety requirements.

“If I look at the amount of kilometres we cover around South Africa every day, then I am confident that our passengers are in safe hands,” he explained.

“Our drivers are receiving top-class training and we have also lowered the number of hours they are required to work so that they have enough rest.

“Accidents do happen, though.”

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