Ford digs up litany of unexplored claims ahead of inquest into burnt Kuga

2019-02-06 09:35
Reshall Jimmy's sister, Renisha, with her attorney Rod Montano and advocate Gerrie Nel. (Jenni Evans, News24)

Reshall Jimmy's sister, Renisha, with her attorney Rod Montano and advocate Gerrie Nel. (Jenni Evans, News24)

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Unexplained casino chips, a "bullet cartridge" and a suspicious maroon car are among a litany of unexplored claims which the Ford Motor Company dug up ahead of a High Court inquest into the death of Reshall Jimmy.

Jimmy's burnt body was found in his Ford Kuga four years ago while he was on holiday in Wilderness in 2015.

Johann Kotze, a former Scorpions acting chief investigator, was hired by the Ford Motor Company's attorneys in November to review the case docket after the 32-year-old died.

If the Western Cape High Court finds that the vehicle company was at fault, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) could charge Ford with culpable homicide.

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

Jimmy's family believes that an electrical fire caused his death and obtained a report from a fire specialist which pointed to this.

In a sworn affidavit, Kotze said it was his expert opinion that police were not objective when they found that a "clear cut case" of a gas leak was the cause of the blaze and that all relevant facts had not been investigated.

He also questioned how a detective could conclude that no foul play was suspected just over two weeks after Jimmy's death when multiple statements were outstanding and an investigation to establish if there was an electrical fault had still not been completed.

Kotze had been handed the docket three months ago, which he described as one which was in "substantial disarray". He said the investigation was unprofessional and incomplete.

'Big bang'

Kotze identified 14 witnesses whose evidence he considered crucial. But the initial investigating officer had not approached them. Other statements were ostensibly incorrect or lacking.

One statement was from one of the first people on the scene who had been driving in Waterside Road and saw the burning Kuga.

In his affidavit, the investigating officer stated that the witness tried to open the doors but found that they were locked. These details, however, could not be found in the man's statement.

The first person to report the incident to the police had also not been found, Kotze said.

A couple who may have been the first witnesses that night had also never given police a formal statement. According to the officer's investigation diary, they saw a maroon car drive past when Jimmy's car started burning. The two stopped to "look for help".

The man had, according to the detective, not been "in a good status" when he wanted to take his statement. The witness has since moved to France. A man who was with the couple had also seemingly not been interviewed.

A neighbour also told the previous investigating officer that he heard a "big bang" – or a small explosion, while in his home in Melkhout Avenue – directly opposite where Jimmy's car went up in flames. A statement had not been obtained from him and he has since sold his property, Kotze said.

A first-report witness, who sent the officer a video he had made of the incident, was also not recorded in the docket. Kotze said he traced the man to Prieska, where the man claimed he had seen a copper item – a supposed bullet cartridge – at the scene the next morning and contacted the police.

According to the docket, the item would be examined by the Explosives Unit the following day. There was no indication that this had been pursued.

Missing details

Kotze said he had gone to the police storage in George to photograph the exhibits. No record of the item could be found.

Another witness told the private investigator that he had seen four men in a maroon car make a "suspicious U-turn" that night, close to where Jimmy's Kuga was burning.

Kotze said the man had given this information to the police, but it was not included in his sworn statement.

The maroon car was, however, noted in the officer's investigation diary.

The witness later gave another statement to attorneys under oath, where he claimed he and the officer had had a short discussion about the inconsistencies in the draft.

"The inspector advised me that this matter was a clear-cut case, with nothing untoward, where the air conditioner had leaked gas and the ignition had caused a fire, with the driver being left paralysed because of the gas. He indicated that he simply needed my statement for the file so that they could close the investigation."

According to Kotze, a former employee of the Fairy Knowe Hotel had said she had seen a passenger in Jimmy's SUV when he left the hotel that night. This had not been investigated further.

It was unclear if CCTV footage of the Fairy Knowe Hotel, which focused on the parking area, had been obtained. A staff member told him that footage was recorded over every two weeks if not saved.

Kotze also contested the Jimmy family's version that Jimmy had driven to Wilderness on the day of his death because he had information that Jimmy spent 10 hours at the Garden Route Casino that day, as per two security officers. Jimmy, according to Kotze, had allegedly been involved in an "altercation" there, and casino chips had been found at the fire scene.

Three exhibits entered into evidence

The responding police officer had also been informed of "suspected rifle shots" in Melkhout Street, which seemingly had not been investigated.

The missing details "sketched circumstances which demanded thorough investigation and to follow up on all the leads and information so as to determine whether the vehicle was set alight, whether the deceased was subject to an attack and ultimately what caused the fire to destroy the vehicle in which the deceased passed away," Kotze maintained.

Three exhibits had been entered into evidence for this case, Kotze said – six sealed evidence bags containing cigarette butts, a vehicle log book for the Ford Kuga and "burnt wiring" from the vehicle.

The last piece of evidence is considered compromised, Kotze claimed, as there was no chain of custody for it since it was seized for inspection in January 2016 and placed in the forensic bag a year later.

Kotze severely criticised the initial investigating officer's work, calling for the outstanding aspects to be probed by "a suitably skilled investigation team".

On Monday, State advocate Anthony Stephen, SC, requested that the inquest into Jimmy's death be postponed after Kotze's claims that evidence was not explored by the police during their initial investigation.

Stephen said two senior police officers – a brigadier and a colonel - had been handed the case for further investigation after he wrote to the provincial police commissioner requesting this.

Jimmy's sister Renisha on Monday said the allegations relating to her brother's death were "nonsense" and "absolute hearsay".

The inquest is expected to resume in March.

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

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