'There was nothing I could have done' – cop at Kuga fire inquest

2019-03-19 22:21
Advocate Anthony Stephen and investigating officer Thembekile Matwa at the inquest into Reshall Jimmy's death (Jenni Evans, News24)

Advocate Anthony Stephen and investigating officer Thembekile Matwa at the inquest into Reshall Jimmy's death (Jenni Evans, News24)

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The first police officer to arrive at the scene of the burning Ford Kuga that is at the centre of an inquest into the death of Reshall Jimmy said the car was so engulfed in flames that he could not even see if there was anybody inside the vehicle. 

"It was just flames all over the place," said Constable Ryan Petersen, stationed at Wilderness, near George. 

"You couldn't see if there was any person inside of the vehicle because of the flames," said Petersen. 

"There was nothing I could have done." 

Petersen was providing his account of events of the night of December 4, 2015, which are being canvassed to establish whether there will be any prima facie evidence of wrongdoing and a possible prosecution relating to Jimmy's death.

The National Prosecuting Authority has declined to prosecute, and AfriForum, which tried to get a private prosecution certificate, is hoping that the inquest will reveal more information.

'Mystery group of men'

Jimmy's family, led by his sister Renisha, is convinced that he died as a result of technical failure with the vehicle. 

Ford Motor Company denies this, and has put forward other information in an effort to establish that Jimmy's death might have been caused by something else that is unrelated to the vehicle's safety. 

The company had dealt with a massive recall to repair an engine problem in 2017, after reports of Kugas bursting into flames, but in this case it does not believe the vehicle was at fault.

It has already submitted that there were several flammable items recovered from the vehicle after the blaze was doused by the George fire brigade, such as hand sanitiser, cellphone batteries, a long braai lighter and a cigarette lighter.

The company is also exploring the possible involvement of a mystery group of men who were seen driving off, and the discovery of what could be spent shell casings near the scene.

Petersen said that on the night, as they stood helplessly at a distance while the blaze grew, a loud bang came from the back of the vehicle.

Video shown in court

He thought it might have been the fuel tank because a line of flames moved from the car to a nearby bush after the bang.

"It was very hot," said Petersen.

The court was shown a video taken by an onlooker. From a distance people can be heard discussing if somebody has a fire extinguisher, and speculating over whether it was the fuel tank that had caused the bang as the fire grew in size.

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

AfriForum's advocate Gerrie Nel, representing Jimmy's family, established from him that he only saw there was a person in the car once the fire had been put out.

"He was unrecognisable," said Petersen in a low voice. 

He said he tried to collect information at the scene but many of the people were inebriated and had different versions of events, so he took down their contact details.

Flames seemed to come from the front, say witnesses 

Some people also told him a car, which he remembered as a white Toyota Corolla, had driven up to the scene when the Kuga was already on fire, and then turned around.

He said some people described the occupants variously as "black" or "brown" or "coloured".

He remembered people saying they thought they heard what sounded like gunshots, but it could also have been items being scattered in the inside of the car as the fire consumed it. 

He said from his vantage point the fire seemed to be from the front windshield, moving towards the back of the car. 

His colleague Lieutenant Colonel Richard Tonkin, who has been overseeing the investigation, said that when he arrived the car was soaked from the fire brigade's dousing of the flames. 

The scene had been cordoned off and Petersen briefed him. Walking to the vehicle, he saw the remains of a person, and that the vehicle had been burnt from the windshield and dashboard towards the back of the vehicle. 

Car's fuel only flammable liquid detected

Two front tyres were still inflated, but the two back tyres were burnt. 

The wasn't a seat belt over Jimmy's body, but the buckle was still clasped in the housing of the seat belt. 

Jimmy's body was removed and the vehicle was moved to Pacaltsdorp pound. 

On the Tuesday after the fire, Petersen went to the pound with an officer from the K9 unit whose dog was trained to detect flammable liquids.

The dog only stopped at the fuel tank which had a missing cap on its three unleashed inspections of the vehicle. 

The wreckage was moved to a pound in Oudtshoorn due to space issues in Pacaltsdorp, and was examined again in March 2019 in preparation for the inquest. 

This time the delegation included the investigating officer Constable Thembekile Matwa, Tonkin, representatives of Ford Motor Company and former Scorpion Andrew Leask, for AfriForum. 

'Bullet casings' tested 

Some parts were removed and sent to laboratories in Johannesburg and Pretoria for analysis and then returned to the police. 

The results of the copper casings they found near the scene, which most of the police officers do not think are spent bullet casings, are still awaited. 

Tonkin also travelled to a nearby casino after finding what looked like burnt casino chips in the vehicle but the casino checked its security records and said Jimmy had not been there. The chips did not resemble their casino chips either, but were thin and more like drafts chips.

Earlier, Constable Matwa had explained some of the difficulties he had faced in getting Ford's investigator's first report.

The inquest continues on Wednesday.

Read more on:    ford  |  afriforum
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