'The car literally melted': Kuga fire witness's WhatsApp message to friend

2019-03-27 21:13


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One moment Leigh Pienaar was having pizza and wine with her partner and the next they were the first witnesses to the scene of a Ford Kuga that went up in flames with Reshall Jimmy inside.

This emerged at an inquest into Jimmy's death on Wednesday.

After their dinner, she and her partner at the time, Jake Rigby, were on their way back to the backpackers lodge in Wilderness on December 4, 2015, where they were staying.

She remembers passing a "dark coloured" vehicle going slowly in the opposite direction.

She also remembers four men with dark coloured skin inside the car, but no other details of them.

Ford Motor Company is trying to establish the importance of this sighting, reported by some as a maroon vehicle, and whether it had anything to do with Jimmy's demise.

READ: Ford Kuga Inquest: Noise near burnt-out Kuga not a gunshot says witness

Still driving, Pienaar and Rigby saw a stationary vehicle in the lane facing them, and started discussing why the vehicle was there and not moving.

Rigby slowed down as they passed the vehicle and Pienaar remembers seeing sparks escaping from the front bonnet.

She did not see anybody inside the Kuga as they passed it.

They pulled over about 40 metres away.

"We felt confused, concerned, and that something was not right," said Pienaar.

She told Rigby not to go close to the vehicle in case there was danger, but as they stood watching, they noticed that flames, and not just sparks, coming from the bonnet and the inside of the vehicle, closest to the windscreen area of the interior.

The flames continued, another car came up and parked and its occupant stood near them.

Then, numerous small explosions started in the front area of the vehicle.

It was only when Pienaar saw the reverse lights of the Kuga suddenly go on that she realised there might be somebody inside the vehicle.

She ran about 50 metres back to the lodge and screamed for help.

Some people from the lodge returned with her and by then, somebody had started filming the fire.

The fire spread from the vehicle on to the road and was doused by the fire brigade which arrived about 20 minutes later.

Nobody tried to open the vehicle.

"Shortly after that I heard that somebody saw that there was a body inside the vehicle," testified Pienaar. She did not go and look at the body.

During her testimony, she volunteered a copy of a WhatsApp message she had sent to a friend the following day, December 5, 2015, that she later handed over to investigating officer Constable Thembekile Matla.

She thought he might need it and had a spare copy printed out for the presiding officer, Judge Robert Henney.

The WhatsApp started with: "Girl, so hectic last night. Jake and I saw a murder."

It continued with: "The car literally melted. I think it was a drug deal gone bad and they murdered the guy and set his 4X4 on fire."

Pienaar told the court that she got that information from people who were speculating at the scene.

"It was not correct," she told Henney, adding that it was just what she had heard.

Her and Rigby are no longer together and he is now in France.

She said that after an investigator from Ford started contacting her, she made some notes of what she remembered and a family lawyer friend helped her draft the notes into a statement, and then later into an affidavit.

Pienaar used a borrowed slide rule to point out on a map where they saw the burning car, and watched a snippet of the video taken on the night, to confirm that the fire she saw was at the front of the vehicle.

She could not remember what colour the smoke was.

Earlier, front house manager at the Fairy Knowe Hotel Jean Pierre Benadie said that Jimmy had checked in just after 21:00 when the kitchen was closed.

Jimmy left before taking his luggage to Room 9 where he had booked a room for one, and Benadie assumed that Jimmy was going to get something to eat as the hotel kitchen was already closed.

He said that later when the staffers were gathered after the shock of the fire, they had a few drinks, and as the evening wore on, they kept going back to theories of what could have happened.

The inquest continues on Thursday.

Jimmy's sister believes her sibling died as a result of a technical failure on the vehicle, which the company has denied.

Read more on:    ford kuga  |  courts

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