South Africa: Hooting Heard Amid the Flames of Reshall Jimmy's Blazing Kuga

The hooter of the late Reshall Jimmy's Ford Kuga blasted for a short period while a fire in his vehicle turned into a blaze on a quiet road in the Wilderness area of George, the inquest into his death heard at the Western Cape High Court on Tuesday.

According to evidence presented by John Loud, Ford's expert witness from US company Exponent Incorporated, the videos that were taken at the scene as Jimmy's car was burning, tells him a lot about what happened to the vehicle on that fateful night.

Parked on the road near the Fairy Knowe Hotel, videos filmed by bystanders from 20:06, show Jimmy's tail light and licence plate light going out.

Nine seconds later, his reverse, right brake, left brake and high brake lights went out; then his left tail light went out.

It took until 20:18 for his headlights to go out, based on the beams shining at first on the hedge next to his car.

During this his hooter started sounding, but eventually stopped.

By then the car was completely engulfed in flames, and a fuel trail was starting to run along the ground to the right of the vehicle.

A police car and the George fire brigade arrived and the fire was extinguished.

Jimmy's body was found inside the vehicle.

Jimmy's sister Renisha sat quietly in the front row of the court on Tuesday, listening to details of her brother's final moments.

He had checked in to the Fairy Knowe hotel on the evening of December 5, 2014, and it was not long after that that he died.

The outcome of the inquest could shed light on whether a defect on the international motor company's vehicle was responsible for the fire, as the Jimmy family believes.

After Jimmy's death, there were 52 incidents of fires in Kuga vehicles, but nobody was injured. The fires led to a major recall by Ford of 4 670 vehicles in South Africa in January 2017. This was to rectify an engine cooling deficiency.

In court documents, Jimmy's vehicle records show that he had taken the car in several times for problems with his brakes. He had also complained that his 2014 1.6L Ford Kuga which was made in Spain the previous year, would lose power while driving, but the power would come back. It also had a software upgrade to address the power concern in November of 2015.

On Tuesday, with a model of half of a Kuga in court dissected to show its mechanics, Loud testified at length. He repeated himself many times on the intricacies of vehicle electronics, and what happens to them during a fire, as Judge Robert Henney asked him numerous questions.

Questioned by advocate Andre Bezuidenhout, Loud explained that the temperature inside Jimmy's vehicle would have been at least 1 080 degrees, because that is the temperature needed for the copper retrieved from inside the burnt vehicle to have melted.

However, in all of his simulations and examinations of the wiring retrieved from the vehicle, he could find no evidence that the fire was started in the body control module (BCM), as suspected by some of the investigators.

He explained that the BCM, which is bolted to a bracket behind a vehicle's cubby on the left passenger side, is responsible for making all of the buttons and switches inside a modern vehicle work. This ranges from the fuel gauge to the starter button to the ambient temperature in the vehicle.

It gets a signal via wiring from, for example, the vehicle's lights when the driver switches them on. That signal is relayed from the BCM via the wiring back to the lights to switch them on.

However, Loud insisted that the cause of the fire was not due to the BCM.

His theory that the BCM had nothing to do with starting the fire was also supported by the video footage showing the flames first on the driver's side of the vehicle, and then moving to the left, where the BCM is situated.

He had also found that the plastic nearest the BCM had not all burnt out.

Loud also found that the floor mat and carpet on that side had not burnt out.

"That observation allows me to rule out the body control module as the area of origin of this fire."

On Monday, Loud noted that several accelerants or items that could start a fire were found in the vehicle afterwards, which included a cellphone under a seat, a braai lighter and hand sanitiser (which contains alcohol).

The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) has declined to prosecute anybody in connection with Jimmy's death, and, via support from Afriforum and former NPA advocate Gerrie Nel, the inquest hopes to determine what caused the fire, and whether anybody can be charged.

Loud's evidence-in-chief continues on Wednesday.


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