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Unmarked trench causes fatal accident

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Durban - A 68-year-old woman has died in a Durban hospital after the bakkie she and her husband were travelling in plunged into a trench dug across a road in Ladysmith.

Parvathy Sewparsad died after fighting for her life for two weeks in a Durban ICU since the accident.

Her husband, Billy Sewparsad, 71, said on Thursday that they had been on the way to a Ladysmith hospital for her regular dialysis treatment when the accident happened.

The accident happened in the town’s Delhi Road.

“It was around 6am and there were no signs or cones anywhere. I saw people waving me down but I thought they wanted a lift so I didn’t think much of it,” Sewparsad said.

He said the accident happened “in a flash” and before he knew it the bakkie was lodged deep in the trench.

“My wife was critically injured. She had broken her legs, her arm and dislocated her shoulder. She also suffered head injuries,” Sewparsad said on Thursday.

Sewparsad, who had been driving, suffered a concussion, torn muscles and the impact had also hurt his knee, which had been replaced a few years back.

“We were told (at the local hospital) that we needed to transport my wife to St Augustine’s Hospital in Durban because of the seriousness of injuries.”

Both were taken to Durban by ambulance.

“I received treatment but my wife was badly injured and was in ICU from May 7 until she died on Wednesday.”

He said relatives had told him that workers were filling the trench the next day, while he was still in hospital.

Her family are considering legal action against the uThukela District Municipality, claiming the trench had been poorly marked.

The family planned to lodge a formal complaint with Ladysmith police on Friday.

“We were more worried about my wife than going to the police,” said Sewparsad, adding that he was not interested in pursuing legal action against the municipality “for the money”.

“I’m a man who believes in charity, so I’m always trying to give a lot away to better the community,” he said.

But, he said, the municipality needed a “wake-up call” and the family would be considering taking it further.

“We need justice. We want to save other people from being involved in this kind of accident, to avoid more deaths,” he said.

“We are so disappointed. Someone needs to be reprimanded.”

uThukela District Municipality mayor, Dudu Mazibuko, said she was aware of the incident and the matter was being investigated.

“On May 6, we had received reports from residents of the Delhi Road area that there had been a burst pipe. Several people told us they had had no water in their homes.”

She said this prompted the municipality, despite the late hour, to dispatch their standby crew to immediately begin repairs.

“They worked through the night into the early hours of the morning (of May 7).”

She said crews normally marked the affected area with orange cones and red reflective tape.

“We block that area off clearly so motorists can easily spot the construction. If we had been fixing this pipe during the day, this would not have happened.”

Mazibuko added that there had been instances in the past where people - even local residents - who removed the cones and the tape if they either narrowed the road too much or blocked their own driveways.

“We suspect that this is what happened here. Since we were done at the site at 1am and were set to resume later that morning, and the couple left their house some time in between, this is very possible.”

Either way, she said, the municipality was “really sorry” for the loss of life and extended condolences to the family members.

“Of course we wish we could’ve avoided the accident altogether.”

She said the municipality would put up reflective signs at future sites of construction.

Mazibuko said operations like this one often took between two and three days, so there was a large window in which accidents could occur.

“Unfortunately there is not much we can do about the timeframe, because a certain amount of digging and filling has to be done, but we can work on measures to make the area around the construction site safer.”

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