The truck that crashed after careering down Fields Hill into Pinetown, killing 24 people, was allegedly “not roadworthy” and it was impossible for its brakes to have stopped it.
This is according to a startling report that has been handed to the State for consideration by the deputy director of public prosecutions (DDPP).
Ironically, the report was allegedly commissioned for the trucking company, Sagekal Logistics, and conducted by technical expert, Tommie Rootman, who revealed his conclusions at a press conference in Pinetown after May’s brief court appearance on Wednesday.
The report said the braking system of the truck, which ploughed into four taxis and several other vehicles after failing to stop at a traffic light, had been in a “bad state of deterioration” before the crash.
And the driver, Swazi national Sanele May, would not have been able to slow down to select an appropriate gear for driving down a steep descent like Fields Hill, it said.
May faces 24 charges of culpable homicide.
However, Sagekal owner, Gregory Govender, said he had no knowledge of Rootman being hired.
“I do not know this man. I had hired a Stan Bezuidenhout and paid him for his services. His report will be released in due course. I have nothing to say about Rootman’s finding.”
Rootman said he had been hired by Govender’s attorney, Theasan Pillay.
“I have proof of all our correspondence via email. He can dispute it all he wants.”
Rootman said Sagekal owed him R11 000 for his services.
The organiser and founder of the Sanele May Support Group, Peach Piche, believes the report will “change the dynamics of the case”.
She was approached by Rootman, who made the report available to the group for a fee.
This was after Sagekal had allegedly failed to pay him for the investigation, the report or his travel expenses from Johannesburg, where he is based.
Attorney Pillay confirmed that Rootman had been contracted to “conduct a thorough investigation, encompassing all prevailing factors”.
However, he said a dispute relating to fees had “immediately” arisen, leading to the termination of Rootman’s services after just one day.
By then Rootman had inspected the truck at Sagekal’s premises, where it had been moved to after the September 5 crash.
Rootman said he had inspected the truck on September 12 and concluded that its brake linings were so severely damaged and there was such a degree of deterioration that there was no way the brake system could pass a roadworthy test.
“Based on my investigation I conclude that, with the brake systems of both the horse and trailer in their current state, it would not be possible for any driver to have executed proper, if any, control over the vehicle speed for purpose of selecting a lower gear or to stop and/or hold the vehicle.”
He said this was the case prior to and at the time of the crash and concluded it was caused by poor maintenance.
Sagekal had, a week after the fallout with Rootman, released a preliminary report by another expert, which absolved the company of liability and concluded that the crash was caused by “operator (driver) error”.
“Rootman’s report was received after the investigation had been conducted by our current expert,” said Pillay.
Rootman said he had not been paid as allegedly agreed with Sagekal.
He said he had given the company six months to make the payment, failing which he would make the report available to May’s support group.
Piche said they made the report public because there were “things which needed to come to light”, and so that the right people could be held accountable and for justice to be served.
Rootman also concluded that May’s ignorance was a contributing factor to the crash.
“The brakes were in really bad shape.
“The driver must have noticed it, but he still continued to drive,” Rootman said.
May’s lawyer, Lindokuhle Mdletshe, said it was up to the DPP to consider the report.
“If he is satisfied that there is a case after this report, then the matter will go to trial,” he said.
In the meantime, the defence would continue to prepare for trial.
Mdletshe would not comment on whether the defence hoped the report would prompt a withdrawal of charges against his client or spur the prosecution of Sagekal owner, Gregory Govender.
Pillay called Rootman’s handing over of the report to Mdletshe “a malicious and condemnable act, which may attract serious sanctions”.
He said it was unprofessional and unethical.
He did not comment on the findings of the report.
May’s case was transferred from the Pinetown Magistrate’s Court to the Durban High Court on Wednesday.