13 die in pile-up

Mhlaba Memela

Mhlaba Memela

Thirteen taxi passengers died in a car pile-up on the busy R103 road outside Ladysmith in northern KwaZulu-Natal during yesterday's morning rush hour.

It is alleged that a truck travelling from Ladysmith to Harrismith veered off the road into oncoming traffic and collided head-on with a minibus taxi.

It is believed that the truck driver had fallen asleep when he ploughed into the taxi packed with passengers.

Six injured people were rushed to the Ladysmith provincial hospital, three of whom are believed to be in a critical condition.

The deceased are believed to be eight females and five males.

Emergency rescue teams had their hands full removing the bodies that were trapped in the wreckage.

Police spokesman Captain Charmaine Struwig said the accident happened near the Peacetown turn-off.

She said the truck driver had run away from the scene.

A second truck and two other vehicles subsequently drove into the vehicles already in the accident, causing a pile-up that kept the road closed for hours.

"A large section of the Harrismith Road was completely closed off to traffic while authorities battled to clear the wreckage," Struwig said. "The road was wet at the time of the accident."

She said the driver of the first truck, who is suspected of having caused the accident, has not yet been arrested.

"Police suspect that he fled from the scene soon after the accident," Struwig said.

"The deceased have not yet been identified but are thought to be local residents."

MEC for transport, community safety and liaison Bheki Cele expressed his condolences with the families of the victims.

He said his department would continue to enforce the law on the province's roads.

"But drivers should also make sure that they rest enough to avoid such gruesome accidents," Cele said.

"Fatigue invariably leads to accidents."

The police are investigating 13 culpable homicide cases and have called in collision reconstruction experts to assist them in reconstructing how the accident happened, Struwig said.