Driver of bakkie which crashed into house, killing 8, acquitted

2018-02-05 11:00
Driver in which eight kids died in Imbali acquitted.

Driver in which eight kids died in Imbali acquitted. (File)

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The driver of the bakkie that crashed into a house in Imbali, killing eight primary school pupils in 2015, has been acquitted of all charges.

Lungile Mthimkhulu (36) was charged with eight counts of culpable homicide arising from the accident in which Fezokuhle Primary School pupils — aged between seven and 11 years old — were killed.

On Friday, regional court magistrate Bhekizitha Phoswa found in his judgment that the prosecution had failed to prove that Mthimkhulu had driven so recklessly and negligently that she was responsible for the deaths of the children. The judgment was greeted with gasps from the public gallery, which was packed with family members of the victims.

During the trial, Mthimkhulu testified that she had lost control of the bakkie while going down a steep hill and said she believed brake failure was to blame. She said when she was driving down the steep hill she tried to control the vehicle using the brake but the brake pedal just went down to the floorboard.

“I heard something exploding. After that explosive sound the vehicle was already down the hill. I could not slow down thereafter or control it,” Mthimkhulu said when she testified.

The children were killed when the bakkie careered down the hill on January 28, 2015 and crashed into a house.

Phoswa found that the state had failed to disprove Mthimkhulu’s version that the vehicle experienced “unforeseen mechanical failure of the braking mechanism”.

He said the expert who testified in the case did not conduct specific tests to establish if the defence version was correct — that the brake pads had disintegrated at the top of the hill before the impact.

“Another alarming fact is that prosecution did not order the expert witness to investigate the loading capacity of the vehicle. No one provided evidence on whether or not the children who were seated at the front perished because they were not properly strapped in their seat belts. They reluctantly conceded that it could be the cause of events,” said the magistrate.

Phoswa said he had pondered the circumstances arising from the crash and concluded that it was a “tragedy”.

“The accused is likely to live with the trauma for the rest of her life,” he said, adding that the parents and Mthimkhulu had entered into an agreement built on trust and confidence and neither of the two parties foresaw the crash.

Phoswa said he sympathised greatly with the victims and parents of the children who died. “The only thing I pray for, as hard as it may be, is that at some stage the families and all those who were affected by the accident may find closure,” he added.

Outside the court families of the victims wept uncontrollably and comforted each other. Wenzile Mkhize, the grandmother of Olwethu Vilakazi, said her family had been through a “horrid time” and had taken a lot of unnecessary strain since the accident.

Mkhize said the case had brought back terrible memories for her.

“It’s very hard and I refuse to accept that this is the end. How are we expected to find closure?” added Mkhize.

Another parent who was overcome with emotion, Thabisile Shezi, the mother of Yolanda Shezi, said she is heartbroken. “The tragedy is that I will live the rest of my life without my baby girl. It hurts that the justice system has failed us,” she said.

Another parent, who did not want to be named, said: “The prosecution was supposed to prove that she was carrying an overload. It was not our job as parents to prove it.

“The entire case was mishandled.”

When Weekend Witness approached Mthimkhulu outside court, she declined to comment.

The children who died in the accident were: Snakhonke Mchunu (8), Owami Mahlaba (10), Sinenhlanhla Amanda Nkomo (8), Yolanda Akhona Shezi (9), Sinetemba Nonkululeko Chonco (7), Sinenhlanhla Dlamini (7), Olwethu Bandile Vilakazi (9) and Nonzuzo Zuma (11).

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  accidents

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