Fire investigator blames electrical short circuit for Ford Kuga blaze that killed Reshall Jimmy

2019-05-27 17:32
Hendrik McLeod points out the wires he believes caused the fire in Reshall Jimmy's Ford Kuga. (Tammy Petersen)

Hendrik McLeod points out the wires he believes caused the fire in Reshall Jimmy's Ford Kuga. (Tammy Petersen)

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A fire investigator who probed the blaze in which Reshall Jimmy died while strapped into his Ford Kuga found that an electrical short circuit caused the fire, the Western Cape High Court heard on Monday.

Hendrik McLeod of Fire Wise Consultants, contracted by insurance company Telesure, said this was the consensus reached when he, together with a SAPS and Ford-appointed investigator, investigated what remained of the SUV at the Pacaltsdorp police station, a month after Jimmy’s death in December 2015.

According to McLeod's findings, a live wire from the vehicle's battery to its ignition crossed another which led from the ignition to the subsidiary circuit module. One of these wires had been damaged, he testified, and had come into contact with the bare metal body, resulting in the short circuit.

"It creates an arc which can result in a fire, as it did in this case," McLeod, also a municipal firefighter with 40 years' experience, told Judge Robert Henney.

He dismissed the findings of Ford's investigator, Andrew Young, which included that the fire could have originated from the back of the vehicle, pointing out that unburnt clothes had been found in the boot of the car. Most of the damage to the rear had been caused by heat and not necessarily fire, he explained.

He called the theory of a hand sanitiser found on the floor of the SUV causing the inferno "a joke", saying the bottle had been closed. He had nevertheless tested this theory by burning it, noting that it had self-extinguished within seconds.

'Electrical short circuit'

The long reach lighter also found in that vicinity would also not have been able to light itself, he pointed out.

"The only heat source in the vehicle was the electrical short circuit," McLeod maintained.

After Jimmy's death on December 4, 2015, there were 52 incidents of fires in Ford Kuga vehicles, but nobody was injured. The fires led to a major recall in January 2017 by Ford of 4 670 vehicles in South Africa. This was to rectify an engine cooling deficiency.

Should the inquest establish that the vehicle company was at fault in Jimmy's death, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) could charge Ford with culpable homicide.

It previously declined to prosecute and opted for an inquest instead, because there was no realistic possibility of a conviction at the time due to insufficient evidence.

Jimmy had been on holiday in the Wilderness when his 2014 1.6L Ford Kuga went up in flames that night.

'No evidence of product failure'

McLeod said, during the inspection of the vehicles, it had been agreed that the fire had emanated from the area of the body control module.

This component is bolted to a bracket behind a vehicle's cubby hole on the passenger side and is responsible for making all of the buttons and switches inside a modern vehicle work. This ranges from the fuel gauge, to the starter button, to the ambient temperature in the vehicle.

The wires McLeod pointed out on a section of a demo Ford Kuga, standing in the courtroom, were in this vicinity.

He testified that he had looked at the fire markings, burn and smoke patterns, as well as soot to make his determination and had not viewed any videos, witness statements or evidence, as he believed that it could cloud his judgement.

John Loud, the US-based expert hired by Ford to determine what happened to Jimmy's vehicle, last week testified that there was no evidence of any product failure within Ford's control that caused the fire.

According to him, the cause of the fire was undetermined.

The inquest continues on Tuesday.

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Read more on:    ford  |  reshall jimmy  |  cape town  |  courts  |  accidents
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