‘Brake pedal stayed on floor’

2017-10-06 13:30
Driver blames brakes, didn't know how many were in bakkie.

Driver blames brakes, didn't know how many were in bakkie. (File)

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The driver of a bakkie that crashed into a house in Imbali killing eight primary school pupils in 2015, says she does not know how many children were in the bakkie at the time.

She also confirmed that none of the children were wearing seat belts, and that she did not know how many passengers her bakkie (a Toyota) had been designed to carry.

Lungile Princess Mthimkhulu (35), who alleges brake failure was the cause of the accident, initially told regional magistrate Bhekizitha Phoswa she “thinks” she was transporting 23 children at the time of which “three or four” were seated in the cab alongside her.

However, replying to questions by prosecutor Ricky van Wyk, Mthimkhulu said she “will not dispute” evidence by the first officer on the accident scene that there were 29 children in the bakkie.

“I did not count how many children there were,” she said, adding that on that day there were some “new” children that had joined the group.

She said she had simply checked that they were all “properly seated” before departing. “I thought they were safe the way they were because that was something that usually happened,” she said.

Asked by the prosecutor what she’d thought would happen if there was an accident and the children were not wearing seat belts, Mthimkhulu replied; “That never crossed my mind”.

The figure of 29 children having been in the bakkie, was later challenged by defence advocate Shane Matthews, who said the officer who testified about the number of children in the bakkie, Gary Ireland, had noted different numbers of children in statements he had made prior to testifying.

Matthews said in one statement he’d recorded there were 23 children in the bakkie and in another that there were 26.

Mthimkhulu has pleaded not guilty to eight counts of culpable homicide arising from the accident in which pupils from Fezokuhle Primary School, aged between 7 and 11 years old, were killed in Imbali on January 28, 2015. Many other pupils were injured.

Mthimkhulu confirmed yesterday that she’d lost control of the bakkie while going down a steep hill, but said she believed brake failure was to blame.

“As I was driving there is a part of the road that has a steep slope… a steep down hill. I 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.”

She said she had pulled up the handbrake but the bakkie did not slow down. “What came to my mind is that I should try to negotiate the bend that was at the bottom [of the road] … I did not see what happened thereafter.”

“You agree that you failed to negotiate the bend and your motor vehicle launched into the air and into a house?” asked Matthews, to which Mthimkhulu replied; “Yes”.

She said she was also injured and was hospitalised for two weeks.

She told the court she had been transporting school children “for about five years” prior to the accident.

Asked by the prosecutor how fast she was travelling before the accident, Mthimkhulu said she wasn’t sure but “thinks” it was 60 km per hour as she was travelling slowly. The bakkie was in second gear.

As the car went down the steep hill, she did not look to see how fast it was going.

She said after the “explosive sound” she had heard on braking, the foot pedal had stayed down and in spite of her pulling up the handbrake the bakkie just continued to pick up speed.

Before adjourning the case to November 8 for closing arguments, the magistrate asked Mthimkhulu if she believed, in the light of all her answers to questions, that she had acted as a reasonable driver was supposed to, to which she replied; “Yes, I do”.

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

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg

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