Traffic cop’s father weeps as taxi driver’s jail time is cut

2010-09-22 00:00

THE father of Pietermaritzburg traffic officer Des Hanson, who died after being run over by taxi driver Lucky Mbonambi (34) on June 12, 2008, wept bitterly yesterday when told the high court had reduced the driver’s sentence from an effective 12 years to three years’ imprisonment.

An additional two years’ imprisonment was conditionally suspended by Judge Graham Lopes and Acting Judge Yvonne Gcaba, who upheld Mbonambi’s appeal against the sentences imposed by regional court magistrate Rose Mogwera.

The new sentence was backdated to the date of sentencing last April, and further reduced by 10 months — the period that Mbonambi spent awaiting trial.

Judge Lopes said a factor to be taken into consideration was that Mbonambi was not convicted of intentionally causing officer Hanson’s death.

“He was charged with a crime of negligence, and it is tragic that the appellant’s lack of care resulted in the traffic officer’s death,” said Lopes.

“One of the problems which every motorist experiences is that a moment’s inadvertent lapse of attention carries with it the possibility of a traffic incident.

“Sometimes these incidents are small and euphemistically described as ‘fender benders’, and on other occasions, as in this case, they have horrific consequences.”

The appeal judges also found that the trial court had failed to take into account Mbonambi’s personal circumstances.

These included that his family and neighbours viewed him as a “decent person”, that his boss described him as a “humble person who enjoyed a good relationship with his colleagues” and felt he had lost a competent driver, and that a probation officer believed he accepted responsibility and felt remorse.

According a report, Mbonambi admitted he hadn’t paid previous traffic fines due to straitened financial circumstances.

Judge Lopes said one could not ignore that Mbonambi had “little regard for the laws of the road”.

On the morning of the incident he not only ignored red robots in Pietermaritz Street, but also swerved around a 4x4, passing it on the left without being able to see why it had slowed or stopped. This was when Hanson was struck.

“Save for demonstrating a contempt for road traffic laws (a contempt clearly shared by other taxi drivers because on that morning 60 tickets were issued in an hour and a half) the red-light offences did not contribute directly to the incident,” the judge said.

Sapa reports that a former chief of the KZN Road Traffic Inspectorate, Lou Corbitt, expressed shock, saying traffic officers put their lives on the line and need protection.

REACTING to the appeal court ruling, Hanson’s father, Basil, said he is “so disgusted” he cannot put his feelings into words.

“What about my son’s life? He was a traffic officer and was very well-loved in Maritzburg …

“He was also my friend and my financial assistant. I have nobody left in my family … this is just killing me,” Hanson said, sobbing.

In a letter to The Witness last week, Hanson said his son’s killer should be kept in jail.

“I am totally disgusted with the judicial system of our country. Mbonambi drove fast, crossed two red traffic lights and hit my friend and son, killing him, when he was doing his duty on our roads. I hope the court keeps him in jail,” he wrote.

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