Pretoria - A young police officer was killed on Thursday afternoon when the police vehicle he was driving smashed into the wall of a shopping mall during a high-speed chase involving robbers who had broken into a house in Silverton.
The officer and his colleague had responded to a call to pursue a BMW X3 which had just been stolen from the house near Silverton Crossing.
Police officers at the scene said four men had broken into a home and stolen household items, which they loaded into the car before speeding off.
The dramatic chase was along Watermeyer Street in the direction of Mamelodi when the police vehicle, a Ford Focus, veered off the road, mounted the pavement and crashed into a wall.
Police at the scene said the BMW was outpacing the police car.
“The pressure on the police vehicle was too much. The driver lost control and veered off the road on to the pavement,” one official said.
The vehicle swerved into the mall entrance, hitting and dislodging a palisade barrier and hitting the wall. There were no cars near the entrance and no pedestrians, but a mother and her daughter who saw the car enter the mall and hit the wall, described it as frightening.
“It happened in a split second,” the mother said. She had heard the screeching of tyres and the next minute “a sound like the clap of thunder, and then smoke billowed from the front of the car”.
Other eyewitnesses, who saw the accident, said another police vehicle had arrived just as this one hit the wall.
“Cops rushed to the car and desperately tried to open the doors, but failed to open the driver’s side,” another customer at the mall said.
An ambulance arrived to take the surviving police officer away while teams of forensics officers worked on the scene, watched by a growing crowd of bystanders.
Gauteng provincial police spokesman, Lieutenant Kay Makhubela, said the officers were chasing the stolen vehicle when they were forced off the road by another vehicle.
“They then crashed and one of them unfortunately died.”
Police worked for close to three hours on the scene before the car was forced open and the body taken away.
There were different versions of events leading to the crash, including the emergence of a truck along Watermeyer Street, which pushed the car off the road and caused the accident. Others said all the cars had been driving in their respective lanes, and blamed speeding for the accident.
While some police officers worked on the scene, collecting pieces of evidence and clearing the debris along the road, others were sombre, saying the dead officer had been very young with a promising career in the force.
One said he hadn’t been a policeman for more than seven years, and was aged less than 30 years at the time of death.
“Inexperience could have played a role. Caution in chasing a powerful vehicle is what we always preach to them,” he said.
The stolen car was recovered in Mamelodi, without the suspects or the stolen goods, the police said.
It was a major setback that the perpetrators had managed to flee, leaving one of their own dead, the officers at the scene said.
They called the death of the young officer a tragic loss, and said all efforts would be made to find the robbers.