Johannesburg - A family are taking on Ford South Africa, demanding answers on the cause of a vehicle fire that claimed the life of their loved one.
One year after 33-year-old Reshall Jimmy burnt to death in his 2014 Ford Kuga SUV, they are still waiting for Ford to respond and have now hired internationally-renowned forensic investigators to probe the fire.
Having already spent thousands hiring other private forensic experts, the Johannesburg family said that due to Ford's lack of urgency in releasing a requested report, they were unable to find closure.
Jimmy, who had worked at a digital marketing and advertising agency, was travelling to George when his car caught fire in the seaside town of Wilderness on December 4 last year. His bother, Kaveen Jimmy, said Reshall had bought his Ford Kuga new in 2014.
“Reshall messaged and called me along the way and informed me he had arrived safely.”
He said that around 9.45pm he received another call from his brother but could not hear him and the call disconnected. “I tried to call back but there was no response. I knew he had a problem with his cellphone,” Kaveen said.
“On December 8, I got a call from a lady from Wesbank, who wanted to confirm my brother’s personal details. I thought he was perhaps partying and something had gone wrong.
“When I enquired what the call was about, she refused to answer and advised me to call an investigating officer in George, who explained about the fire in Wilderness," he said.
“They did traces on Reshall’s registration number and through Wesbank traced me. They were of the opinion it was my brother and advised me to come to George.”
A stunned Kaveen arrived a day later.
“I saw the vehicle at the police’s forensic facility. It was badly burnt. While going through the vehicle and the items, I identified Reshall’s clothing, which was partially burnt.”
He said he was not allowed to see his brother’s body.
“I later learnt that the only skin that was not burnt on his body was the skin on the soles of his feet, because he had his shoes on," he said.
“We arranged to bring his body home overnight and his cremation, in accordance with Hindu rites, took place on December 13.”
From there on, Kaveen said, their uphill battle with Ford started.
“The police requested that Ford send a forensic expert to check the wreckage. The person arrived on December 15 and merely took photographs,” he said.
“The police called Ford again to find out what was going on but were told the forensic expert was from Germany and would only be available on January 20.”
Their sister, Renisha Jimmy, the family’s legal counsel and a forensic representative from insurer Dial Direct met police at the facility where the car was held, on that date.
Renisha said that after eight hours, an expert from Fire Wise Consultants, the police forensic expert and Ford’s representative concluded the fire had started as a result of an electrical fault on the left-hand side of the dashboard.
Soon afterwards, two reports were submitted, but a third, from Ford, is still outstanding.“This was despite their expert signing an undertaking that information would be shared,” said Kaveen.
Reshall Jimmy died in December last year when his 2014 Ford Kuga exploded.
He said Ford then sent a letter to the police, allegedly now stating the fire had started in the rear of the vehicle.
At the third inspection, at the Oudtshoorn police depot last week, Kaveen claimed Ford had flatly refused to speak to the family when a meeting was requested by their legal counsel, preferring to liaise directly with the lawyers only.
He claimed Ford’s legal counsel had told him their findings would not be shared, unless through legal means.
Kaveen said he did an online search, which showed that Ford had recalled thousands of its Escape (Kuga) models in the US due to risk of engine fire.
“A week before my brother died, a Johannesburg woman, who had the same model car, had just managed to get out her vehicle after it caught alight.
“If Ford took that fire seriously and sent out a notice, my brother would not have taken the car and could have been alive.”
Kaveen said he would continue to draw attention to the issue until the Kugas were recalled.
Post contacted Ford South Africa about the concerns, and spokeswoman Alisea Chetty said: “Our heartfelt condolences go out to the family and friends of Mr Jimmy. We are working with the authorities on the investigation of the fire.
“We take the safety of our customers very seriously and are committed to addressing potential issues and responding quickly.
“If customers have a concern relating to their Kuga, we recommend they bring their vehicle to a Ford dealership for inspection. Customers can also contact Ford Customer Service directly at 0860 011022.”
Police spokesman Captain Malcolm Pojie said: “The investigation is not completed. It’s ongoing.
"We haven’t seen that report (by Ford). We have requested they make it available some time ago and are still waiting."