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Dismay at death truck owner's 'slap in face' fine

Industry news
The fine meted out to the owner of the ill-fated Fields Hill crash truck has been slammed by road safety organisations who on Monday described it “as a slap in the face” for the families of 24 people who died and the driver who is languishing in jail.

Gregory Govender, the owner of Sagekal Logistics, whose truck Sanele May was driving when the horror Field’s Hill crash occurred, was fined R25 000 or two-and-a-half years in prison in the Verulam Magistrate’s Court on Monday.

This was after he entered into a plea bargain and pleaded guilty to contravening the National Road Traffic Act, said Natasha Kara, the KZN spokesperson for the National Prosecuting Authority.

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Vehicles in the horror crash on Fields Hill in 2013. File picture: Independent Media.

The charges stem from the September 2013 crash for which May, the driver, is still serving a sentence of eight years and 10 months at the Umzinto Correctional Facility.

Peach Piche, the founder of the Sanele May Support Group, said they believed the fine should have been more substantial and should have included compensation for the families.

“It doesn’t seem fair that he (Govender) gets to pay R25 000 - that’s like R1000 for each life lost - and walks away free.

The fact that Sanele was placed in that situation, and so many people died, was owing to the negligence of the truck owner not ensuring that his vehicles were roadworthy.

Owner "just as guilty"

Richard Benson, the head of the Road Safety Action Campaign, said the fine was not much considering the loss of lives and pain and suffering caused.

“The owner should, at the very least, have the same responsibility as the driver. In some instances they should be held more accountable as they have the responsibility to prevent an unqualified, unskilled driver from taking over a vehicle.

“There should be heavy penalties for neglecting this responsibility,” said Benson.

His sentiments were echoed by advocate Johannes Jonck, the editor of the Arrive Alive website. Although he could not comment directly on the case, Jonck said it was important that offenders in road crashes be brought to justice.

“It should never only be the driver. In the transport industry, the owner or the fleet manager has to bear responsibility.

That includes checking up licensing of the driver and the roadworthiness of the vehicle,” said Jonck.

Govender’s attorney, Theasen Pillay, told The Mercury his client was grateful the matter had been finalised after “four long years.”

“It has really taken a toll on him and his family, they have lost everything. He lost R21.7 million and now that the matter is over, he will pursue something else,” said Pillay.

No contact with families

Piche said as May’s supporters they were never vindictive towards Govender, but they did not feel that Govender was remorseful and the blame was disproportionately put on May.

Pillay said his client was advised against making contact with the families of the deceased for fear for his safety.

“Sanele was faced with the same fears but reached out to them as he showed remorse. I think the families would’ve appreciated that immensely

“The families have been waiting and hoping for some form of contact or apology, losing loved ones was an impact of his negligence. I know they will be very disappointed at the outcome,” said Piche.

Moipone Noko, the KZN director of Public Prosecutions welcomed the sentence, saying she hoped it served as a warning to transport operators to ensure that their vehicles are roadworthy as truck accidents contribute significantly to the carnage on our roads.

Kara said that in the matter, which was prosecuted by senior State advocate Alistair Walters, Govender was charged with contravening the act regarding the roadworthiness of the truck and the trailer and in terms of the duties of an operator.

“This is where the operator of a motor vehicle is expected to conduct his operations with due care to public safety.

“The fourth charge is a contravention of the Immigration Act, and relates to the employment of the driver of the truck - Sanele May - who was illegally in the country,” she said.

The charges against Sagekal Logistics were withdrawn as the company was subject to liquidation proceedings and was insolvent, said Kara.

The Mercury

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