‘Sparks, smoke and then …’: Kuga fire witness
And another witness account clashes with claims by Ford that Reshall Jimmy had been shot
Lee Pienaar and her boyfriend were driving home on a back road in Wilderness in the Western Cape after enjoying dinner at a restaurant when the couple noticed an SUV next to the road, with sparks coming from the bonnet.
Concerned, they pulled over to the side of the road, about 50m from the Fairy Knowe hotel where they were staying, but it was too late to offer help – flames had started leaping from the bonnet of the Ford Kuga and small explosions flashed into the night air.
“There were sparks and some smoke, coming from the windscreen area where the wiper blades are,” she told the Cape Town High Court, adding that she “couldn’t see” if there was anyone in the car.
At the same time, at about 10.30pm, retired engineer Mike Tucke was sitting on his stoep that evening of December 4 2015, when he and his wife heard what sounded like a car crashing at a “relative speed” into the hedge at the edge of their property.
He told the court on Wednesday that at no point did he hear anything resembling the sound of a gunshot, making mincemeat of claims by the Ford team that Reshall Jimmy had not died in a deluge of flames, but had in fact been shot.
“If I heard a gunshot, I would have looked for cover, not my garden hose,” he told the court.
Unknowingly, both Tucke and Pienaar were probably witnessing the first of Ford’s luxury Kuga SUVs to spontaneously combust.
The two were testifying in the inquiry into what happened that night, with Jimmy’s family obtaining the legal assistance of AfriForum’s advocate Gerrie Nel in a bid to clear his name. The family believes Ford had done everything its power to avoid prosecution and culpability.
The inquiry came about after the state refused to prosecute the matter, saying there was not enough evidence to continue.
More than 80 Ford Kugas have caught fire since Jimmy’s death.
Ford has been trying to prove that the fire was not caused by a faulty cooling system.
On Monday, the court heard that Ford chief executive Jeff Nemeth had contacted one of the state’s witnesses, Andrew Roberts, who arrived on the scene shortly after Pienaar, and asked him to include certain details in a statement to Ford’s lawyers which would be used in the inquiry.
Nemeth sat with Roberts and Ford’s lawyers in March 2017 as he added hearsay details which were absent from the statement that he originally deposed to the police more than two years earlier.
The details included that suspicious-looking occupants of a Toyota sedan made a U-turn about 800m down the road from where the car was on fire, and that a police officer who arrived on the scene after the flames were extinguished commented that the driver had a hole in his head.
Pienaar also mentioned that she saw an old sedan driving slowly in the opposite direction from where the car was standing on the side of the road, but she did not link the sedan to the incident. She also said she did not see the occupant of the vehicle whom the officer commented about.
Another witness, former Fairy Knowe hotel employee Jean Pierre Benade, also testified about receiving Jimmy at the check-in counter earlier that evening.
He described Jimmy as well-dressed and looking like a businessman. He also described him as sober.
He said that at 9.07pm on December 4 2015, he referred Jimmy to some of the restaurants in Wilderness because their restaurant had already closed.
Nel told the court that Jimmy’s car had a service history, showing it had been taken in for a service several times after the car switched on without the keys in the ignition.
The inquiry continues.