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Pretoria - They were once good friends who shared a love of fast cars and guns. This saw them driving at 260km/h and Darren Fresco taking the blame for a gunshot that went off at a packed Tashas restaurant in Melrose.
But on Tuesday, Fresco most often referred to Oscar Pistorius as “the accused” and avoided all eye contact as he painted the Paralympian as a temperamental person who was reckless with firearms.
Fresco, the 11th witness to be called by the State, supported evidence by Pistorius’s ex-girlfriend, Samantha Taylor, that Pistorius had shouted at a police officer who had stopped them for speeding at 260km/h. He had fired shots through the sunroof of his car shortly afterwards.
They had been travelling from a function at the Vaal Dam, in September 2012, when police officers stopped their car after the Grasmere toll plaza.
While one officer checked Fresco’s driving licence, another went over to where Pistorius had been sitting and picked up a firearm from the seat. As he did this, one bullet was ejected.
“There was an altercation between the accused and the officer. The officer had picked up the accused’s gun, to which the accused had replied ‘you can’t just touch another man’s gun’,” said Fresco.
Pistorius had continued his tirade: “Your fingerprints are all over my gun. If something happens, you’re gonna be held liable.”
“He was furious; furious that somebody had touched his firearm,” said Fresco.
He searched for the bullet in the car and gave it back to Pistorius, Fresco said.
“I think he had put it back in the magazine,” he said.
After being issued with a speeding fine, which Fresco had simply crumpled up and thrown on the footwell, he had driven off until he heard a thudding sound.
“Instinctively I moved over to the right side and ducked down. I saw the weapon being brought back in through the sunroof,” said Fresco about the incident in which Pistorius had allegedly fired shots through the sunroof of the moving vehicle.
“Apologies, My Lady, but I asked him if he was ‘f***ing mad? After that he just laughed,” said Fresco.
This contrasted sharply with Taylor’s evidence that Fresco had also laughed when Pistorius fired the shots, having spoken about shooting at a robot earlier to vent their anger at the police officers.
When defence counsel Barry Roux pointed this out to him, he said: “I’m happy that my version is the truth.”
Four months after that incident, they had met for drinks at Tashas restaurant, where Pistorius asked him to pass his gun.
“I passed it to him under the table. I knew he had a big love for weapons, and having been around them for a long time, I believed he had the competency. As soon as his hands touched the weapon, I told him there’s one up (a bullet in the chamber). Almost immediately, the most deafening sound went off.
“As soon as that happened, we carried on as if nothing had happened,” said Fresco.
They hoped people in the restaurant might have mistaken the sound for a gas explosion coming from the kitchen, and he even told boxer Kevin Lerena, who had been grazed by the bullet, to “please put your foot down (and) don’t bring attention to yourself”.
Pistorius had then asked him: “Please, there’s too much media attention around me at the moment; please take the rap.”
“Being a friend, I said I would… with pleasure,” Fresco said, not once looking towards Pistorius, who kept glaring at him.
He then told the restaurant owners that the bullet was discharged when his gun fell out of his pocket.
Under cross-examination, Roux grilled Fresco on why he had never stated crucial evidence in his statement, such as that Pistorius had asked him to take the rap that day.
On his Facebook profile, Fresco lists sarcasm as one of the languages he speaks. And when Roux questioned him on whether Pistorius had heard him saying there was “one up”, and about the distance he had been seated from Pistorius, he simply said: “I don’t remember. I didn’t have a ruler with me.”
His cross-examination was expected to continue on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Tuesday was a better day in the dock for Pistorius. Although still appearing stressed, and from time to time sitting with a bowed head, he mostly spent the day staring at Fresco in the stand and handing notes to his legal team.
He even managed a smile for relatives, including his sister Aimee, who has been at his side since the start of the trial.
She ensures that he has sufficient water by his side, and brings him coffee during breaks. Pistorius’s end of the public gallery appeared packed with relatives and friends, while the Reeva Steenkamp camp on the opposite side of the bench was occupied only by a few friends.