Knysna bus ‘had failed test’ – murder charges being considered

The bus in which 14 children died when it plunged into a river near Knysna last month was completely unroadworthy, a forensic examination found.

All of the serious faults on the bus should have been detected in a roadworthy test in April, Western Cape Transport MEC Robin Carlisle said yesterday. 

Announcing the results of the forensic investigation, Carlisle said he was “personally shutting down” TJ Motor Vehicle Testing Station in George, which issued a roadworthy certificate for the “death bus” on April 14. 

The MEC said a case of corruption was opened against testing station owner Eugene Labuschagne, who conducted the test on the 32-seater Tata bus. 

The docket had been transferred to the Commercial Crimes Unit. 

Labuschagne yesterday strongly denied any wrongdoing, saying that he would defend the allegations in court. 

Carlisle said all the testing station’s records would be confiscated for the ongoing investigation into the bus crash on August 24, when the vehicle – heavily overloaded with 58 Rheenendal Primary School pupils – rolled backwards into a swollen river near Knysna. 

A number of the 44 survivors and parents of pupils at the school said the vehicle’s brakes were faulty. 

Several weeks before the accident some parents even submitted a letter to the school complaining about the condition of the bus. 

Yesterday a department statement said the forensic investigation had revealed that the gear lever was loose, making it difficult to change gears. 

This was because none of the four bolts holding the gear lever mounting bracket was tightened. One bolt was missing, “the second was unscrewed up to the point that it was fouling the steering pump”, and the other two were also loose. 

“I am of the opinion that it is highly impossible for the gear lever to deteriorate to such an extent within 133 days,” a team member was quoted as saying, referring to the number of days from the time of the “alleged roadworthy” test to the day of the crash. 

Carlisle earlier revealed that the bus in fact failed the April 14 roadworthy test, which took just 20 minutes, but was issued with a certificate of fitness when it returned to the testing station 80 minutes later for re-examination, which took another 11 minutes. 

Labuschagne said he had been a vehicle examiner for 15 years and that 20 minutes was sufficient time for someone of his experience to check a vehicle. He said he would consult his lawyer to challenge Carlisle’s decision to shut down the testing station.

Western Cape Transport MEC Robin Carlisle on Tuesday said police should consider murder charges when investigating the school bus crash in Rheenendal. 

Carlisle said the police should look into opening murder cases. 

“If people knew, and they must have known what the condition of that bus was, and knew that it was being used to transport children, then I think that is stronger ground for a murder rather than culpable homicide charge,” he said. 

The owner of the testing centre has been charged with corruption. 

Carlisle said it was obvious that the bus was not roadworthy. 

“When they tested the vehicle, it was completely without any braking ability,” he said.

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