Taxi man guilty in officer's death

2009-03-11 00:00

Taxi driver Nhlanhla Lucky Mbonambi (32) admitted in the Pietermaritzburg regional court yesterday that he caused the death of Pietermaritzburg traffic officer Desmond Hanson when he drove too fast and hit him, dragging the officer for a distance before his taxi came to a halt in the city centre on June 12 last year.

Mbonambi was convicted by regional magistrate Rose Mogwera of culpable homicide and of committing seven traffic violations, some of which he denied.

He pleaded guilty to culpable homicide, an alternative charge to that of murder which he originally faced.

Mbonambi said he was driving along Peter Kerchoff (Chapel) Street in his Toyota minibus taxi at about 6.15 am when he saw a Mazda twin-cab 4x4 stopped in the right lane.

He moved to the left to avoid the vehicle and “all of a sudden” Hanson appeared in front of him. He said he was unable to stop in time and hit Hanson, dragging him. Hanson was taken to hospital and he heard later that he had died.

Mbonambi admitted that he drove too fast to stop to avoid Hanson.

Mbonambi also admitted three traffic violations committed over a period — stopping in a prohibited place, failure to wear a seatbelt and failure to stop at a stop sign — but pleaded not guilty to four others, including charges that he skipped two red robots in Pietermaritz Street on the morning that Hanson was killed — at Bank and Printing Office streets.

He also denied he failed to stop at a red robot at the Bank Street intersection a few weeks earlier (May 29), and that he was stopped by Inspector Mbongiseni Hlela, who ticketed him for that as well as for having an expired professional driver’s permit.

However, Mogwera accepted the testimony of traffic officers Mark Parsley and Hlela and convicted him of those charges as well.

Mogwera said it was clear that Mbonambi’s failure to stop at the red robots was “part and parcel” of his recklessness and negligence that cost Hanson his life.

Mbonambi said he could not remember being ticketed on May 29 by Hlela because he did not sign the ticket.

He said he had never been so “lucky” as to be stopped by a black traffic officer. When it was pointed out to him by prosecutor Mfundo Pepu that another ticket signed by him was issued by a black officer named Mpanza, he replied that he had said that “most” of the time he was not stopped by a black officer.

The court was told it is not a legal requirement that a ticket must be signed by the accused, and Hlela said he did not ask Mbonambi to sign for it. All Mbonambi’s details, including his full name, address and identity number, appeared on the ticket.

Asked how the traffic police could have obtained this information if they had not stopped him and issued the ticket, Mbonambi said he was “surprised” they had his details.

Parsley told the court that Hanson was killed during an operation that started at about 4 am.

He said a similar operation on May 29 resulted in 40 prosecutions.

“That morning [June 12] we wrote over 60 tickets over a period of about one-and-a-half hours,” he said.

Parsley said he and Inspector G.K. Moodley were stationed at the Bank/Pietermaritz intersection.

They radioed descriptions of vehicles that jumped red robots to their colleagues further ahead.

He said Mbonambi’s taxi went through red lights at the Bank and Printing Office intersections and then turned left into Peter Kerchoff. “We later heard that there had been an accident. We ran up to discover officer Hanson had been knocked over by the same vehicle.”

Parsley said he asked traffic officers at the scene what had happened and also took video footage of the scene. He saw Mbonambi there and asked him why he had driven as he had.

“His answer was that he knew he had unpaid tickets and warrants of arrest and that was why,” he testified.

Mbonambi shook his head and muttered under his breath as Parsley gave evidence. Later he denied having made such an answer.

He will be sentenced on April 9.

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