Inquest into Reshall Jimmy's fiery death in a Ford Kuga starts on his birthday

2019-03-18 21:32
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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On the day Reshall Jimmy would have turned 37, a massive inquest into what led to him being burnt to death in a Ford Kuga got underway in the Western Cape High Court. 

"My mom makes a cake for him," said Reshall's sister, Renisha, sitting in the front row of the public gallery on Monday.

In front of her were three rows of lawyers representing the State, Ford Motor Company, and a private legal team from AfriForum. 

"She pulls a piece out and says, 'this is for him'," said Renisha. 

But instead of life carrying on as normal for the family, the matter has turned into an inquest after the National Prosecuting Authority declined to prosecute anybody for Reshall's death on the grounds of insufficient evidence.

Reshall was found dead inside the vehicle in the Wilderness area of the southern Cape on December 4, 2015, after a huge blaze in the car was put out.

His family, led by Renisha, says its investigator deduced that Reshall had died as a result of a fire caused by a technical fault in the vehicle and wants the Ford Motor Company to be held responsible. The family does not accept the State's decision not to prosecute.  

AfriForum's private prosecution wing had also applied for a certificate to launch a private prosecution, but it was refused. 

Questions over 'flammable' items in car

Ready for the inquest, a display containing some of the innards of a vehicle was glued to a board for later reference, and a television set was ready to show the hundreds of pictures and cellphone footage taken while the car was burning. 

Judge Robert Henney is presiding over the inquest and stressed that the point was not to find anybody guilty, but to examine the available evidence and decide whether there was any prima facie evidence to support a case of murder or culpable homicide.

Advocate Andre Bezuidenhout, for Ford, strenuously denied that the company was responsible.

Instead, he has raised questions about whether some of the items retrieved from the burnt-out shell of the vehicle might have been responsible since some were flammable.

READ: Ford Kuga inquest: Bullet cartridge, casino chips dismissed as airbag parts, 'monopoly money'

This included hand sanitiser, which he said is flammable, a long braai lighter, two cellphone batteries and a cigarette lighter. A partially burnt log book indicating that the warranty had expired because services were not done on schedule was also found in the burnt-out husk.

He is also testing information he received that a car-load of "coloured people" were seen, and that casino chips were found in Reshall's vehicle.

"There is no evidence that a Ford Kuga defect was responsible for the fire," submitted Bezuidenhout.

He said while vehicle fires were rare, they could occur to any brand. 

Family's report disputed

"There is no credible evidence whatsoever that Mr Jimmy died as a result of Ford," said Bezuidenhout.

He said that recalls that had been implemented were related to a hairline crack in the engine.

He submitted that the fire in Reshall's car was in the cabin of the vehicle, and not in the engine. 

"In fact, the engine bay compartment of the Jimmy vehicle was untouched. 

"The Jimmys claimed he died due to electrical fire. We have irrefutable evidence as to how incorrect and deceitful Mr Jimmy's report was," alleged Bezuidenhout.

He alleged that media awareness of Reshall's death was being used by the family to get a settlement from Ford.

In his opening statement AfriForum's advocate, Gerrie Nel, who is representing the Jimmys for free, alleged that Ford Motor Company was slandering not only Reshall, but the police who investigated the case as well.

"This matter as Ford is concerned, is not unique," submitted Nel.

Ford creating 'lots of dust'

Nel drew comparisons between Ford's conduct in this matter, and its conduct when fuel tanks in its Pintos exploded in the US in 1978, resulting in several deaths.

He said that Ford knew about the problem with the fuel tank in the Pinto case, but did a cost benefit analysis instead.

"They decided it would it cost $137m [to fix] against $49m that they thought they would have to pay for inquests or people dying," submitted Nel.

"Ford is doing what they can to create lots of dust and not deal with the specific technical evidence," he alleged. 

He said that the police were correct to not follow "wild evidence" about Reshall visiting a casino, and that it "is a lie" that a witness saw Reshall being shot. 

He also dismissed a "concern" over the five mystery "coloured people" the defence referred to.

Nel alleged that Ford had changed its report on what may have happened several times. This ranged from a fire that started in the dashboard due to two wires, to a fire that started in the boot, to: "undetermined".

He added that a company investigator went to Ford in the US in December 2018 for a tour of the lab, came back and produced yet another cause of the fire. Nel complained that he had not been able to get a copy of this report.

'Drunk' eyewitnesses

He said the only things that were certain so far were that the incident happened on December 4, 2015, just after 22:00, and that Reshall had travelled to George for a pre-booked paragliding adventure. 

First to answer questions about evidence collected and statements gathered was George detective Constable Thembekile Matwa, who came under fire from Bezuidenhout over his handling of the case. 

Firstly, he was taken to task for not taking witness statements on the night that Reshall died and allegedly not following orders to get further affidavits or witness statements. 

Matwa said that "with respect", the night Reshall died was over the Christmas period, and the people on the scene were drunk and telling different stories, and "gossip".

He decided to get statements the following day from the people who had stopped to help. 

He said that he had recovered a burnt laptop from Reshall's car and the cyber specialists were hoping to get information off its hard drive.

He said the witness statements about mystery "coloured males in a car" spotted near the scene ranged from there being one, two, four, or five people in a car that was described either as a maroon car or a bakkie.

He said they had checked out the "casino" chips with a casino in Mossel Bay that Reshall was purported to have gone to, and discovered that they were poker chips widely sold at Chinese-owned shops. 

Not one witness had said how the car caught fire.

He said somebody had also alerted him to what looked like bullet casings at the scene and he is expecting a ballistics report on this on Tuesday. 

The inquest continues on Tuesday. 

Read more on:    ford kuga  |  reshall jimmy
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