Durban drunk driver who severely injured 2 sisters fights to stay out of jail

A personal trainer from Hillcrest, Durban, is fighting to stay out of jail after he smashed into the back of a car while drunk, causing severe injuries to two sisters.

Earlier this year, Stephan Bothma, 27, pleaded guilty before Durban Magistrate Phumlani Bhengu to driving under the influence of alcohol and failing to perform the duties of driver.

The charges relate to the accident in June last year which left electronic engineer Taariqa Archary a quadriplegic confined to a wheelchair and her sister Varsha Maharaj, then a candidate attorney, with brain injuries.

READ: Bafana Bafana player arrested for drunk driving in Tshwane

Archary's husband, Hamresin Archary told News24 that he and his wife of two years had come to Durban from Johannesburg that weekend for a family wedding.

On the day of the accident, they had enjoyed a picnic in Botanic Gardens and had then gone to the Gateway Shopping Centre to do some ten pin bowling.

They were on their way home and were stopped at a red light at an intersection on Bram Fischer Road, in central Durban, when Bothma's car came out of nowhere, crashed into the back of them and drove off.

"We were all trapped in the car. I had to smash a window to get out. And the Jaws of Life had to be used to cut Taariqa and Varsha from the wreckage," he said.

"Varsha was quiet for a while, but then started to moan and mumble. Taariqa, who was sitting behind me, was crushed up against the passenger seat… she was asking over and over again why she could not move… her arms were spasming and jerking."

'I am extremely regretful of that decision'

Both sisters spent months in hospital and in rehabilitation.

Taariqa, who worked at the CSIR for many years and, just prior to the accident, had joined Tracker, can no longer work. She has a carer during the day and her husband Hamresin, a mechanical engineer at Eskom, cares for her at night.

Bothma, who had been drinking beers and shooters at the rugby that evening, left the scene of the accident.

He was followed by an off-duty policeman who witnessed the accident. He eventually caught up up with him in Hillcrest, where Bothma's car had broken down.

He was arrested and blood samples were drawn. He was found to be way over the legal limit.

Hamresin said he had struggled with the fact that Bothma had never spoken to the victims.

"I would have accepted his apology back then… but not now. He is only apologising for the court."

In his guilty plea, Bothma said he had arranged for his fiancé to fetch him from rugby, but his cellphone battery had died.

"I decided to drive… I am extremely regretful of that decision. I admit I drove at excessive speed, I swerved in and out of traffic and failed to stop at an intersection."

Advised by attorney not to apologise

On Wednesday, he testified in mitigation of sentence, claiming he did not remember the accident at all and that he only became aware of it when the police told him.

He said he was "sincerely sorry" about what had happened, had not apologised to the victims on the advice of his attorney.

He said he believed a sentence of correctional supervision, with house arrest - as suggested by a social worker in a report to the court - was fair.

But prosecutor Thandazile Arosi asked him: "If you were in the victims shoes, would you be happy with that?"

Bothma responded: "No."

Asked by the magistrate what he thought of periodic imprisonment, where he would go to jail every weekend, Bothma said he worked on Saturdays. 

His advocate Shazi Khumbu submitted in argument: "This would affect his professional life and would be sacrificing him on the altar of deterrence."

Sentencing proceedings continue on Monday, with the submission of victim impact statements.

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