Durban - Remorse at last from “bridge lawyer” Koobashan Naicker – but it came only after the prison bars clanged shut.
Speaking exclusively to the Sunday Tribune, Naicker, arguably the most hated man in Durban, said: “I know the loss of life caused by my actions can’t be undone, the magistrate correctly pointed that out, but I want to convey my apologies via the media, to the family now that the matter is finalised.”
Naicker was sentenced to an effective six years in jail on Friday for the March, 2011, incident in which he ploughed through traffic on Durban’s Athlone Bridge, killing mother and son Gillian Bell, 32, and Connor, 8, as well as dance teacher, Carmen Hunter, 19.
Sisters Jeena, 6, and Kayla Martin, 3, were also injured in the Saturday afternoon crash when Naicker was driving under the influence of alcohol, cocaine and medication.
“I am very remorseful for what happened,” Naicker said, but when asked why he had waited until now to apologise, he said, “Emotions were raw and strong and it did not matter how much after the incident an apology was tendered, it wouldn’t have made a difference.”
He said he didn’t want his efforts to apologise labelled as ingratiating. “If I had known how strongly the families felt about it, I would have done it earlier,” Naicker said.
“I didn’t want the families believing I was trying to curry favour with the court by apologising, but I’m still being criticised for not showing remorse earlier,” he said, via his lawyer Mervyn Maistry.
In his closing argument, State advocate Mahen Naidu took umbrage that Naicker refused to show remorse and highlighted the fact that Naicker engaged in a long, drawn-out process, spanning nearly three years, before admitting guilt in October.
Naidu rejected Maistry’s earlier call for his client to receive correctional supervision. He asked that Naicker be sent to jail.
Magistrate Blessing Msani found it difficult to understanding why Naicker, a debarred lawyer, spurned the opportunity to express remorse.
“It was remarkable that you decided not to take the stand and express remorse,” Msani said during sentencing.
In handing down his sentence, Msani said it was not ordinary for a man of Naicker’s standing to be “snorting drugs”.
“By doing this you invited the problems you got into,” said Msani.
For his previous driving indiscretions, which include drunken, reckless and negligent driving, Naicker was given a R9 500 fine or 32 months imprisonment.
Soon after sentencing, Naicker’s wife Patty said: “I’m disappointed. I don’t know what else to say.”
But Naicker was more expressive. “I am a bit disturbed with the sentencing. It was harsher than I expected.
“I will consider my options. My attorney will look at the transcript to assess the judgment and take it from there.”
But it seemed the prospect of jail didn’t alter Naicker’s demeanour.
He strode purposefully to the holding cell, below the court, awaiting transfer to Westville Prison.
A court orderly told how Naicker refused to remove his black-and-white striped tie when asked to do so.
When a distraught Patty joined Naicker briefly in the cell, he apparently tried to ease her angst and said: “I’ll probably be inside for about 12 months.”