Durban - Chilling revelations have emerged about the killing of Leanne Douglas, a 45-year-old Port Shepstone woman who died after police opened fire on her car on the N2 near eMkhomazi (Umkomaas) last Sunday.
She was chased off the road by five policemen in three cars.
This week, as details of the bizarre shooting emerged, her mother claimed she was murdered and others have come forward and alleged police attempted a cover-up.
Why the police were pursuing Douglas in her little Chevy Spark, and decided to “shoot her off the road”, remains a mystery that is the subject of a probe by the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid).
Her devastated mother, Leonie Lukin, is convinced her daughter was murdered.
“The police murdered my daughter. Whether she died from the bullets being shot at the car, or that the speed caused her to crash, they are responsible for her murder and don’t deserve to be police officers,” she said on Saturday.
Investigations revealed the Port Shepstone restaurateur had repeatedly clashed with police in the town where she owned the Red Rooster.
Moments before she died, Douglas called her mother in a panic while driving north on the N2 towards Durban at about 7pm.
“‘Mom, they are shooting at me,” were the last words she spoke to her mother, who heard a commotion in the background.
Lukin, 72, says she established that her daughter was racing to her home on the Berea in Durban as she was being pursued by the police and refused to stop because she was afraid of them.
“I told her not to stop. I told her to drive to the nearest police station,” she said on Saturday.
This week the Sunday Tribune ascertained that five policemen in three cars were chasing Douglas. Initially she was being followed by an unmarked police car, a VW Golf, for almost 60km before two marked SAPS cars joined the chase. About five minutes later and just before the eMkhomazi off-ramp, the police opened fire, shooting at the tyres of Douglas’s Spark.
Her car careered across the highway and landed on the southbound carriage way. The car rolled repeatedly and Douglas was flung out.
Police insiders said that in the moments before her death, as she lay near the crumpled remains of her car, she begged officers for help and reached out, clutching the boot of one policeman who stood over her. She made a pleading call for help and died minutes later as police involved in the chase allegedly hatched a plot to cover up the shooting. Paramedics arrived nearly half an hour later.
In that time her car was said to have been dragged up the road by a towing company owned by a relative of one of the officers involved.
eMkhomazi tow-truck driver David Mackenzie said that he listened to the chase play out on his two-way radio. He heard the voice of senior shift officer, Warrant Officer Logan Naidoo, who was in charge.
“I was listening to how they were in pursuit of the vehicle and I heard Naidoo’s voice come over the air saying he was joining the chase. Officers broadcast that the road had been closed up ahead and all of a sudden they came over saying the car had crashed. No one said a word about the shooting,” he said.
“Something seemed strange about the crash and when they said that the woman had died I raised the alarm. When I couldn’t reach the Umkomaas station commissioner, I phoned detectives at Port Shepstone and made sure they went to the scene which ended up being a massive cover-up,” Mackenzie added.
“We cannot allow this to happen. To this day I am the only one to have marked the accident scene and it is clear her tyres had been shot out and there was no way she was doing a U-turn (as later claimed by police).
“The Umkomaas station commissioner only went to the scene a day later on my insistence,” he said.
“These men have tampered with evidence and deliberately tried to cover this up; that is defeating the ends of justice,” he said.
Douglas had had a run-in with police in July and was in a legal battle with a Southport police officer, who she claimed had violently assaulted her during an arrest for accidentally bumping her neighbour’s scooter with her car in the parking lot of the block of flats where she stayed.
After the fracas in July she was detained in police cells in Port Shepstone for three days. She’s alleged to have assaulted the police members who arrested her. One officer involved reportedly demanded R6 000 from her to drop a charge of assault, which Douglas refused to pay.
On the afternoon of her death, she was allegedly accosted by a police officer.
It was unclear whether the policemen who pursued Douglas were in any way connected to her legal woes. Falsified accident sketches, destruction of key evidence, and counter charges of attempted murder against Douglas came to light this week. No mention of shots being fired was communicated over police radio channels.
A police source said: “The road had been closed and this was conveyed to those vehicles chasing the woman. There was no reason to shoot at the vehicle to disable the car – five minutes longer and the chase would have come to an end.
“They would have seen it was a woman who posed no threat to them. Pulling out firearms and using force is not something these guys will be able to justify.”
After the crash the five policemen involved didn’t initially report the shooting.
“The gunshots were heard by other members who had closed the road ahead,” the source said. “When they got to the scene Naidoo said she had tried to do a U-turn and crashed.”
But this story unravelled when police colleagues asked questions. “They didn’t say anything about the shooting and tried to pass it off as an accident,” the source alleged.
“Naidoo’s brother owns a tow-truck company and was one of the first at the scene and they completely destroyed evidence by towing the car about 50m up the road. No pictures or scene reconstruction had been done.” Her crumpled car was dragged on flat tyres to the police station.
The next day one of the five policemen involved opened a case of attempted murder against Douglas and said she tried to run him off the road.
Naidoo refused to comment on allegations made against him when contacted by the Sunday Tribune.
Police spokesman Colonel Jay Naicker said: “The allegations are being investigated by the Ipid.”
A grieving Leonie Lukin says she will for ever be haunted by her daughter’s last call. “She called me saying a female police officer was trying to drag her out of her car. I could hear her telling the policewoman to leave her alone. I told Leanne to not get out of the car and continue driving to the nearest police station. When I called her back two minutes later to find out what happened she was frantic, saying the police were still chasing her.
“She said, ‘Mom they want to kill me. They are shooting at me. I am coming to you.’ I heard a shot and heard her scream, then I heard nothing,” she said. “I couldn’t do anything to help her; I didn’t know what was happening.”
She believes the chase was linked to a previous incident when police tried to arrest Douglas unlawfully .
“Leanne was unlawfully arrested for malicious damage to property and resisting arrest. Things did get physical and she may have hurled insults at them. My Leanne was no quiet mouse and would stand up for herself. She hit a scooter that was parked in her garage and thought she had just bumped it and not caused much damage. The malicious damage matter was later thrown out of court.
“But emanating from that case, she allegedly broke a female police officer’s phone. She wanted a new top-of-the-range phone for R6 000 to drop charges against Leanne.
“Leanne refused to pay the bribe, saying it was extortion. I’m not sure if this is the same officer that tried to pull her out of the car. I don’t want to draw conclusions, but I think the police officers giving chase knew they were going to be in trouble for the unlawful arrest and the bribe.”
Lukin’s home is covered with pictures of Douglas beaming on her wedding day.
“She was so beautiful, look how happy she looked,” said Lukin, tears welling up in her eyes.
Numerous paintings done by Douglas also hang in the lounge. “She was such a creative and unique person. Her paintings bear testimony to that. I am going to miss her. We only had each other.”
Douglas was Lukin’s only child and she has no other living relatives.
“I’m going to miss her hooting at my gate in her little car when she would pop round for a visit. She was a breath of fresh air, breezing through the front door full of life and love.”
Lukin denied claims that Douglas, who was divorced and had no children, was driving drunk and recklessly before the chase.
“The police claim she ran a red robot and was driving suspiciously but I have my doubts about that. There is no justification for what they did, and the police are trying to come up with all kinds of stories to cover up. And if she was driving recklessly it was because she was afraid and was being pursued by three cars.”