Durban: An unlicensed matric pupil who fell asleep behind the steering wheel of his mum’s car and ploughed into four municipal plumbers, killing one of them, received a suspended sentence.
The incident happened seven years ago when Tevin John was 17.
Last Wednesday, John, of Hexham Road in Phoenix, appeared in the Verulam Magistrate’s Court.
On count 1 of culpable homicide, Magistrate Kate Boonzaier sentenced John to one year’s imprisonment. It was wholly suspended for five years on the condition he not be convicted of the same crime during this time.
He was also sentenced to two years of correctional supervision at which time he will be under house arrest.
On count 2, John was ordered to pay a fine of R1 000 or spend two months in prison
In August 2015, John, who only had a learner’s licence, lost control of his mom’s VW Polo. He drove into Kevin Roopnarain, 36, Aldane Scheepers, 36, Velenkosi Mpungose, 38, and Thulani Chala, 41. The men were fixing a water leak on the side of Tatford Road in Sunford, Phoenix.
According to the accident reconstruction report by Warrant Officer Fred Snodgrass, of the SAPS Accident Combating Unit, John entered a sharp bend at a speed on Tatford Road (a narrow road) and was unable to negotiate the bend.
The vehicle then veered into a grass verge. It struck a power box and ploughed into the plumbers. The car then crashed into a driveway gate and boundary wall.
Both Roopnarain’s legs were crushed. His left leg was severed, while his right leg was saved through reconstructive surgery. Scheepers and Chala survived but sustained serious injuries. Mpungose died in hospital.
When the trial began in January, John had initially pleaded not guilty to the charges. After several state witnesses testified, he changed his plea to guilty.
In his plea statement, the former Solvista Secondary School pupil said he was studying long hours for his Grade 12 trial examinations in order to qualify to study law. To try to stay awake, he said he consumed energy drinks and medication.
On the day of the incident, John was driving to a friend’s house. While travelling, his friend told him he was not at home, so John decided to return to his home.
He said when he turned into Tatford Road, he fell asleep at the wheel and woke up after the incident.
John said he was filled with shock and regret and accepted that his actions were both wrongful and unlawful and that he should not have driven in such a state.
Rakesh Singh, the regional court prosecutor who represented the State in the matter, accepted the plea statement that was submitted by John's legal representative, advocate Paul Jorgensen.
During aggravation of sentence, Singh asked for three years’ imprisonment wholly suspended for five years and requested his driver’s licence to be suspended for three years.
Rishi Ramsudh, a correctional officer, submitted his report during pre-sentencing.
The report stated that John was now self-employed and owned Tess Prints, where he earned a salary of R7 000 a month. Ramsudh said John was remorseful.
Ramsudh found that John, after being assessed, would benefit from correctional supervision and an orientation programme.
Boonzaier spoke of the impact the incident has had on the victims.
“Mpungose lost his life, leaving behind his wife and four children, one of whom was two months old at the time. The family lost their breadwinner and the family suffered financially.
“Roopnarain suffered a severe injury and had to get a prosthesis. His family life was shattered, as his wife left him as a result of the accident. She was not prepared to live with a disabled man. He is also unable to work overtime.
“Chala suffered a broken leg, broken pelvic bone as well as other injuries. He too is unable to perform night duties.
“Scheepers also suffered injuries and was in the hospital for over a week and recovering for two months. All these years later, it is painfully clear that all these lives have been altered.”
She then spoke of the accused’s actions and the consequences thereof.
“The accused made a conscious decision to drive that motor vehicle, knowing full well that he did not have a valid driver’s licence. Secondly, the accused was well aware that he was sleep-deprived and drowsy and that he attempted medication and consumed several energy drinks and was not clear-minded. He was incapable of cognitive functioning.
“The accused had a full and proper understanding that getting into that motor vehicle was not only unlawful but it was extremely foolish and irresponsible.”
Boonzaier said the trial should not have proceeded to the extent it did.
“The persons who testified should not have had to endure that secondary trauma by reliving and relaying the incidents of that day.”
She then touched on two particular aspects of evidence that stood out to her and that highlighted the trauma of the incident.
“The court asked one witness specifically the time of day the incident occurred. He said he knew the incident had happened before lunch because, at the end of the day, he took his lunch box back to his wife, which still had his lunch in it.
“Roopnarain spoke about not being able to feel his legs. When he looked around, he saw one part of his leg lying in the rubble.”
Boonzaier found that the secondary trauma of the victims could have been avoided if the accused took ownership at the onset.
“It would have curtailed his own pain and stress of the victims.”
She said when providing a sentence, the court considered the nature of the offence, the personal circumstances of the accused and the interests of society.
“The punishment ought to serve as a deterrent. It must be preventative, it must be informative and it must be retributive.”
She however said the accused was a juvenile at the time of offence and was a first-time offender with no previous convictions or pending cases.
“He will also bear the burden of having a conviction against his name. That alone is punishment in itself.”
Sentencing was then handed down.
During his period of correctional supervision, John was ordered to perform free community service for a period of no less than 16 hours per month. The commissioner of correctional supervision is to determine the details regarding this.
John must refrain from the use of alcohol or drugs for the duration of his sentence and he cannot leave the magisterial district of Inanda without the permission of a correctional officer.
For count 2, Boonzaier chose not to suspend his driver’s licence.
Upon hearing the sentence, Roopnarain said he was glad this chapter of his life was over.
“As long as the accused learnt his lesson and lives his life trying to avoid something like this from happening to someone else, then I am happy.”
Roopnarain, who still works for the city but is office bound, said it had been a difficult journey and that he was always in physical pain. He said he pushed through so he could be there for his son, 9, and daughter, 17.
Scheepers, who suffered an injury to his back and leg, said: “After seven years, to see this case through is a relief. I'm glad that the matter is finalised and that we can all put this matter behind us.”
Scheepers still works for the municipality as a plumbing assistant.