Judge will set legal precedent if Pinetown driver gets bail

FILE PICTURE: The remains of a taxi involved in the Pinetown collision on 5 September 2013. Picture ER24

FILE PICTURE: The remains of a taxi involved in the Pinetown collision on 5 September 2013. Picture ER24

Pinetown magistrate Wendolyn Robinson’s ruling on the bail application of Sanele May, the Swazi national who was driving the truck that killed 24 people on Field’s Hill last month, may set a legal precedent.

In his testimony at last week’s bail application hearing, investigating officer Sanjeev Singh told the court May was an illegal immigrant in South Africa who had taken advantage of a 30-day visitor permit issued to him by SA’s Home Affairs Department to find full-time employment in Durban.

Robinson, who will rule on the bail application tomorrow, is considering a submission by May’s lawyer, Louis Barnard, that the truck driver be sent back to his home in Hlangano in Swaziland, from where he would attend his trial in Pinetown.

As part of May’s bail application, Barnard had submitted an affidavit by Swazi police in Hlangano giving an undertaking that they would arrest the truck driver and bring him back to SA should he fail to appear for his trial.

Magistrate Robinson told Barnard that while she would apply her mind to the submission, she had never heard of a case where a court had allowed a foreign national who had allegedly committed a crime within the borders of South Africa to go back to his or her country pending trial.

Barnard also submitted that the court could alternatively release May on bail and set a condition that he be put in the custody of Swaziland’s embassy in South Africa. The lawyer submitted an affidavit from the embassy giving an undertaking that it would comply with such a bail condition.

However, what is not clear is whether any decision to release May under the conditions suggested by Barnard would supersede South Africa’s immigration laws, which require that any fo-reign national found within the borders of the country without immigration documents, be arrested and deported back to his or her country of origin.

In view of Barnard’s two submissions, Robinson would set a legal precedent if she were to grant bail. On September 6, the truck May was driving hit four minibus taxis and two cars on the corner of Field’s Hill (M13) and Richmond Road in Pinetown shortly before 7pm.

May was initially charged with culpable homicide, but this was later changed to 24 murder charges.

Opposing bail last week, Singh cited May’s conduct in staying and working in the country illegally, and his use of a fraudulent Public Driving Permit which he used to secure the job that led to one of the most fatal accidents in the country, as factors that rendered the truck driver a flight risk.

May also had a warrant of arrest issued against him by Durban’s Metro police for violating the city’s traffic bylaws. However, Barnard had told the court that May was a victim of poverty and unscrupulous trucking companies.

He said while a number of people had died in the accident, it would be disingenuous to paint the accused as a murderer. “One gets the impression that he is very sorry for what had happened,” he said.

May’s alleged misdemeanors, Barnard argued, including violation of traffic regulations and immigration laws, can’t be used to deny him bail.

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