Simulated fire tests show there was no reason the late Reshall Jimmy could not have gotten out of his Ford Kuga before a massive blaze which burnt it out, the company's US-based expert told the Western Cape High Court on Wednesday.
As John Loud, principal engineer of US-based Exponent Incorporated, showed Judge Robert Henney a video of tests he conducted on a model of the vehicle, Jimmy's sister Renisha abruptly left the courtroom.
Earlier, she introduced News24 to two other women whose Ford Kuga vehicles had burnt out, who were there to observe the inquest into her brother's death.
After Jimmy's death on December 4, 2015, there were 52 incidents of fires in Ford 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.
The video by Loud shows that in a fire started with a 15cm flame from a propane lighter under the passenger seat of the vehicle, small wisps of smoke emerge from the area at the corner near the glove compartment.
The wisps form a light cloud and as the small fire grows, plastic starts melting and dripping.
Two alarms that Loud had set to detect gasses, begin sounding before the three-minute-and-eight-second video is done.
According to Loud's readings, he found around 250 million parts of carbon monoxide (CO) and zero hydrogen cyanide on the driver's side, in this simulation of one of his hypotheses presented during the inquest into Jimmy's death.
He said it would take at least 450 million parts of CO just to give a person a headache.
"There was ample time for the driver to exit the vehicle on the basis of these tests," Loud submitted.
"There is nothing that happened that would incapacitate him," he said.
"Burning plastic smells very bad."
Lobby group AfriForum, which is representing the family with a view to possible further prosecution for Jimmy's death after the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) declined, is represented by Advocate Gerrie Nel.
Nel objected to the statement that Jimmy would not have been overcome by the gasses or the smoke, saying that Loud was not a medical expert, and could not testify on whether Jimmy would have been able to leave the vehicle or not.
Loud said there was some unusual evidence found in Jimmy's burnt vehicle.
Aluminium from a roof rack, and plastic from the dashboard had melted and dripped onto a bottle of hand sanitiser, as well as an empty water bottle in the passenger footwell, yet both were intact. He likened them to "archaeological remains" that were "frozen in time" for an understanding of what may have happened.
He said he also found paper behind the driver's seat, which indicated that the fire was not at the back of Jimmy's seat either.
"So, in summary, my lord, the engine compartment is ruled out."
Earlier, Henney took Loud to task for not having an independent observer present while he conducted these tests on Ford's behalf.
Henney said this was normal practice in South Africa.
As Loud seemed surprised by the question over the independent observer, Henney asked: "Who gave you that instruction [to test]? Who paid you to do these things? Who is your client?"
Loud, brought to South Africa by Ford, said he had never in all his years of experience had to have an independent observer present for his tests.
The inquest continues.