Friends of Milnerton High School head boy Jake Wootton, who was buried on Tuesday, claim police declined to breathalyse the driver who mowed down the 18-year-old and officers told them things were done “differently” in Hermanus.
Jake died when a car ran him over him in Hermanus during the Easter weekend.
The police’s conduct in responding to the accident has come under the spotlight with the provincial transport department saying that it was indicative of a far wider-ranging problem with the police’s capacity to respond timeously, effectively and thoroughly to road traffic crashes.
Jake’s mother, Sue Wootton, earlier told the Cape Argus that the driver was arrested after the crash and released the same day because blood samples were not taken within the required two hours.
On Tuesday, hundreds of people gathered at the View Church in Table View to pay a final tribute to Jake
. Many of his friends wore wetsuits to celebrate their friend’s love for body boarding.
In a series of emotional eulogies by family and friends, a picture of a socially conscious, empathetic, mature, diligent and sensitive young man emerged.
“As a result of this, of who Jake was, his passing has left a big empty space in our hearts and in the leadership of our school. Milnerton High will mourn one of its favourite sons for a very long time,” said Paul Besener, Wootton’s principal.
Besener said, after the service, that the school’s trauma counsellors had had their hands full with assisting Milnerton High’s 1 100 grieving pupils.
After the service, the congregation gathered for a wake and a “paddle out” at the Big Bay Life Saving Club. After a ritual of splashing and the floating of a wreath, the surfers caught a succession of waves in Jake’s honour.
At the wake,
Bradley Cacela and Jamey Forknall, two of Jake’s friends who were with him shortly before the accident, described how they had been standing with him in a group of eight or nine friends on Dirkie Uys Street in Hermanus.
“Somebody called that a car was coming, but we didn’t pay much mind because the car was approaching from the opposite side of the road; we just moved into the bus stop,” said Jamey.
When a second, more urgent warning was sounded, the group jumped out of the way, to avoid the car smashing into them, but Jake was hit.
The car had reportedly veered across the oncoming lane and on to the shoulder on the opposite side of the road.
“The guy hadn’t even braked before the impact,” said Jamey.
“The first thing he said was ‘I’m not drunk,’ and he had a really aggressive attitude towards us,” said Bradley, who added that he could smell alcohol on the driver’s breath.
“He was more concerned about the state of the car than that of Jake who was lying in the road.”
They phoned an ambulance (which arrived within five minutes) as well as the police. By the time they left the scene, 10 to 15 minutes later, the police had not arrived. It was only at the hospital that police first liaised with the group of friends.
“They treated us with contempt, almost as though the accident was our fault,” said Bradley. “And when we suggested that they breathalyse the driver (who had accompanied the group of friends to the hospital) one of the officers said that this wasn’t Blouberg and that things were done differently around here.”
Police had not responded to the Cape Argus’ inquiry into the case at the time of going to print.
Stephen Wootton, Jake’s father, referring to the driver who hit his son, said: “I want to see someone answer for my son’s death, but I also don’t want to see another young person’s life ruined by this incident. I’ve heard, however, that the police did not conduct the initial phases of the investigation according to protocol, and that makes me unhappy.”
The Western Cape transport department’s Hector Elliot agreed that the police’s conduct was inadequate.
“The case of Jake Wootton is a tragedy. It is, however, indicative of a far wider-ranging problem with SAPS’s capacity to respond timeously, effectively and thoroughly to road traffic crashes.”
Elliot said that while there were many instances of individual excellence in this regard, the overall picture appeared to be exceedingly dismal.
“It is a strong contributor to the culture of lawlessness that prevails on our roads,” he said.
The SAPS’s response times can vary, said Eliott. In Jake’s case, this led to the suspect being able to leave the scene before the police arrived.
Once on the scene, many officers don’t know what to do, added Eliott.
“They do not assist victims or survivors or establish incident control.
“They do not sanitise the scene or create witness contact lists. They repeatedly fail to obtain blood samples and other evidence from the scene.
“Finally, the follow-up investigation by police into the crash is often inadequate.
“Crash and mechanical investigations into the circumstances of an accident are rarely carried out.
“The net result is that the prosecution service, which is not without its own capacity challenges, is not provided with the materials to put together strong cases in a timely fashion.
“Killer drivers can get off without facing the consequences of their actions, particularly if they can afford a seasoned criminal lawyer of the type that appear routinely when the children of the wealthy kill people with their parents’ cars,” said Eliott.
Eliott said the Department of Transport and Public Works has been working closely with the Department of Community Safety, and has defined a research project to be carried out into SAPS responses to road traffic crashes in the Western Cape.
This investigation will focus on 10 serious cases.
Documents of failure:
Cases considered for study as part of the department’s research project, include: