Durban – The cause of a crash that killed eight people on the M19 on Tuesday was up in the air after bullet fragments were found in the interior.
The vehicle was travelling from the Umgeni area, heading towards the N2, when it reportedly overturned several times and landed on its side, killing seven people at the scene. The eighth victim allegedly died in hospital.
Police spokesperson Colonel Thembeka Mbele said the incident took place at 5.30am.
“A total of seven people died at the scene while another was taken to hospital for medical attention. The circumstances surrounding the incident are being investigated,” said Mbele.
Initially, it was believed that there was no more to the incident than a car crash. However, investigations at the scene and surrounding areas pointed to a possible shooting.
Transport, Community Safety and Liaison MEC Bheki Ntuli said there were clear violations of the regulations for the lockdown.
“The vehicle involved in this horrific accident was ferrying eight occupants as opposed to three, which is a clear violation of the Level 4 lockdown regulations. If the regulations were fully adhered to, the eight lives lost today would have been saved,” he said.
Ntuli said they had sanctioned a full forensic investigation into the cause of the incident.
A Twitter user said her lift club colleagues, who were also her friends, died in the crash. She was alive because she had not been called back to work.
She said she was shocked because on Monday she had wept that she wanted to return to work.
She acknowledged that the vehicle was overloaded and wondered why they were in the vicinity of Umgeni Road, because they would have come from Sunningdale had they been avoiding police.
Durban Accident Combating Unit’s Captain Raj Rooplal said the vehicle took the on-ramp to the M19, crashed into the barrier as it came to the left, then bounced off and crashed into the opposite barrier.
“The challenge we’re experiencing now is that we established that the vehicle may have been shot at and now this has opened a different investigation into this crash. We’ve established a bullet entry into the right rear of the vehicle. We found bullet shrapnel in the vehicle.”
Some photographs from the scene show a bottle of vodka and empty bottles of cooldrink and what looks like juice.
It was alleged that the vehicle had been chased by police a little after 5am. Shots and sirens were also heard by Musgrave residents.
It was also alleged that the vehicle was used as an e-hailing service.
A police source said the driver was shot at by a member of a taxi association after loading up his passengers and then lost control of the car.
Many social media users were shocked that the vehicle had had eight occupants.
Rescue Care managing director Garrith Jamieson said the occupants were trapped and the Jaws of Life and other hydraulic equipment was used to cut them free from the wreckage.
“Unfortunately, seven people had already succumbed to the injuries they had sustained; four females and three males were declared deceased at the scene. One occupant had sustained serious injuries and was stabilised on the scene before being transported to a nearby hospital,” said Jamieson.
He said the road was closed for investigations.
Justice Project SA chairperson Howard Dembovsky said if the bullet aspect was true, then it must be established when the bullet hit the car.
“Was it an assassination of the driver, which caused “collateral damage?” Was it a shot fired by an overzealous law-enforcement official trying to stop the vehicle? Whatever it was, its origin and time of occurrence must be established, and the person who fired it must be tracked down and prosecuted,” Dembovsky said.
“I do so wish that everyone would stop calling these things ‘accidents’. They are not mere mishaps. They are crashes which often have fatal results. If the bullet had anything to do with the crash, it was not an accident. Even if it didn’t, no one ‘accidentally’ crams more people into a motor vehicle than the maximum specified by the manufacturer,” he said.
Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula lamented the deaths and noted that the vehicle was “heavily overloaded”.
Road Traffic Inspectorate spokesperson Zinhle Mngomezulu said traffic was affected for at least five hours with the road reopened by midday.
By Thobeka Ngema