Jimmy died with his integrity intact, Ford Kuga fire inquest hears

Reshall Jimmy. (Image via Facebook)
Reshall Jimmy. (Image via Facebook)

Reshall Jimmy died with his integrity intact when his Ford Kuga went up in flames, after speculation he had been on a gambling binge or had had an altercation with a group of mystery men were proved wrong, the inquest into his death heard on Tuesday.

But the mystery remains: Why did he not get out of his car when it was burning?

"There is no evidence whatsoever to suggest Mr Jimmy had committed suicide," said advocate Anthony Stephens of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) at the Western Cape High Court.

He said any speculation about Jimmy's behaviour on the day of his death was probably as a result of witnesses being in shock.

"[He] emerges with his reputation wholly untarnished," said Stephens, as Reshall's sister, Renisha, sat in the benches, clad in black. 

After the NPA initially declined to prosecute an accused, citing there was no reasonable prospect of success, Renisha kept demanding answers from the police and Ford.

Jimmy died on December 4, 2015, in his 2014 1.6l Ford Kuga shortly after arriving in the Wildnerness from Johannesburg for a break.

There were 52 incidents of fires in Ford Kuga vehicles after that, but nobody was injured.

The company launched a major recall in January 2017 of 4 670 vehicles in South Africa to rectify an engine cooling deficiency.

After Jimmy died, Renisha was supported by AfriForum which had intended to apply for permission for a private prosecution of whoever caused his death, based on the findings of the inquest.

An inquest does not find people innocent or guilty - it tries to establish the cause of an unnatural death and if anybody should be prosecuted.

Renisha has since withdrawn from the inquest from a legal standpoint on the advice of AfriForum which indicated there were conflicting views on the cause of the fire, and has accepted that a finding of "undetermined" would be just.

However, she still attends proceedings, with the bench in front of her now empty of the famous advocate Gerrie Nel and his team.

The State has defended its decision not to prosecute and Ford has argued why the cause of the fire could not be determined.

Jimmy's family has been trying to establish whether there was anything wrong with the Ford Kuga he was driving that could have caused a fire, and if Ford could be held responsible for his death.

Stephens told Judge Robert Henney that Jimmy might have been slowly overcome by gases, and stupefied by them when a fire started in the car.

He said the many tests conducted on behalf of Ford in an attempt to simulate the conditions of the fire and Jimmy's death, were in a laboratory and did not replicate the "chaos" of his last moments in the vehicle with soot, smoke and intermittent power.

Stephens emphasised the importance of the evidence of eyewitness Leigh Pienaar, among the first at the scene, who testified she saw sparks in front of Jimmy's vehicle before the flames.

But he said that even though the exact point of where the fire started could not be established, it did not mean that a finding of "undetermined" should be made. 

He said there was no evidence Jimmy had wanted to kill himself, and any small fire that might have started in the car through some of the items inside would have been stomped out by him.

"There is no evidence before this court that there is any manufacturing fault," submitted Stephens.

Judge Henney then replied: "I think that ultimately it could not have been caused by a manufacturing fault."

He then asked Stephens if it could have been a random or freak incident, which Stephens conceded, adding: "We don't know what caused it."

He said a vehicle manufacturer would not put unsafe vehicles on the road because it would not be able to sell any of them. 

"The finding must not be undetermined, it must be no," added Stephens. 

Ford, however, is aiming for a finding of undetermined. 

Advocate Andre Bezuidenhout said the eyes of the world were on Judge Henney to see how he found regarding a possible prosecution of a global car manufacturer. 

Judge Henney chimed in he did not "work for the world". 

He submitted after 70 witnesses, four lever arch files of witness statements, over 3 000 pictures of the vehicle, numerous experts and witnesses who travelled from within South Africa, and from abroad, the cause of the fire was undetermined, and should be declared as such. 

Bezuidenhout submitted a finding of undetermined would be in line with fire science, based on the information put to Judge Henney so far. 

He added when Jimmy travelled to the Wilderness, he did not report car trouble, he did not mention it when he arrived at the hotel, and nor did he say anything to his family when he let them know he had arrived safely.  

Nor did he mention a headache to anybody, which would fit in with the possibility that gas had leaked into the cabin.

"Undetermined is the correct finding," submitted Bezuidenhout.

Judge Henney offered Renisha a chance to make a statement to the inquest. 

She asked to be allowed to sleep on it.

The inquest will continue on Wednesday. 

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