Pass ‘was not fixed despite the danger’

2008-04-24 00:00

DESPITE a bus with 44 German tourists aboard sliding off the Himeville-Sani Pass road, very little was done to improve it, the Pietermaritzburg High Court heard yesterday.

However, three days after an accident in which an Australian couple were seriously hurt, the roads department switched R1,2 million, earmarked for the stretch of the road from Sani Pass hotel into Lesotho, to the stretch from Himeville, on which the accident occurred in March 2005.

These facts were given by advocate Jurie Wessels, SC, counsel for Canberra couple Murray Eastman, a paraplegic since the accident, and his wife Jane, who are claiming more than R33 million from the roads department and from the accident vehicle’s driver, Professor Robert Mitchell, formerly of Canberra University.

Wessels said that at least a year before the accident, the roads department knew about the poor state of the road and that the section of road on which the accident occurred needed to be re-gravelled.

Road users had complained that the road became slippery after rains. At some spots, vehicles got stuck.

A Sani Pass Hotel executive had written to the department and the Tourism Minister that some bus tour operators no longer visited his area because of the road’s condition. Wessels said the roads department dismissed complaints about the road.

A policeman described the crash scene as a “crash hotspot” and a local resident said drivers should drive at “walking speed” at the spot where the couple had the accident.

Wessels said warning signs and a crash barrier should have been erected at the spot, but Wally Bennett, the roads department regional manager, said they were “not warranted”. He said he travelled the road three days before the accident.

Wessels asked Bennett, who has told the court that some people who complained about the road had an ulterior motive, how he could harbour such an attitude.

Bennett said some people turn facts to their advantage when they complain.

Among the court documents is an e-mail from one official to another, reading: “I sent the lab a letter in Feb 2004 stating that a quarry is required urgently … nothing has happened. A budget for R1 million has been set aside for this.”

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