Swartkops River channel crash drama

Gareth Wilson

A TRAINEE police officer battled in vain to save a Sydenham woman from a watery grave in a dramatic rescue attempt in the early hours of yesterday. Lynette Hammond, 42, was travelling with her boyfriend when the vehicle rolled down an embankment and into a Swartkops River channel at about 3am.

Hammond died after being trapped in the VW Polo which landed on its roof, halfsubmerged under water and mud.

The 48-year old driver – who cannot be named until he appears in court today on charges of drunk-driving and culpable homicide – escaped with “cuts and scrapes”.

While police are still trying to piece together the events leading to the tragedy, it is believed the man – thought to be a Volkswagen employee in Uitenhage – had fetched Hammond from the Swartkops Hotel where she worked as a bartender.

The Polo was travelling on Lesley Road, near the Perseverance off-ramp, when the driver allegedly lost control on the corner and the car slid down the embankment.

Trainee Constable Darren Grebe, 24, – who has been in the police service for only four months – was one of the first on the scene after being alerted by a passing driver.

“As I arrived, I heard screaming coming from the car. I grabbed my torch and ran down the embankment into the river.

“It happened so quickly and all I was thinking was how I was going to save these people,” Grebe said.

“When I got to the car it was half underwater, but I managed to get to a side window that was broken and facing out of the water.

“I saw the man half in the water and he was screaming, complaining of back pain.”

Hammond and the driver and passenger were trapped inside the overturned car and were lying across the front and back seats.

“He was screaming, ‘She can’t die, she can’t die’, which is when I lifted myself onto the car and climbed halfway through the window. I stretched down into the car and felt her neck for a pulse. The pulse was very faint but it was there.”

Grebe said the two were trapped, but, his focus was on trying to stabilise Hammond, whose condition was worsening.

“I tried to keep them calm until the fire department and ambulance arrived but it was difficult due to the situation,” he said.

“While we were waiting for help, I noticed her pulse getting weaker and that foam was coming from her mouth. I scooped out some of the foam so she did not choke.

“Because of the way they were trapped. I couldn’t get to her to start mouth-to-mouth [resuscitation] so I told him [the driver] to give her mouth-to-mouth.”

The driver blew “three or four” breaths into her mouth and foam started coming out but her pulse got stronger.

“She was unconscious the whole time but I carried on talking to her in case she could hear me,” Grebe said.

“The ambulance arrived a short while later and I told the man to keep her head out of the water as I ran up to get help.

“The next thing I remember is the medics and fire-fighters at the vehicle with me but, unfortunately, she had died.”

The driver was taken to hospital to have blood samples drawn for tests.

Devastated Antoinette Dorfling, 35, Hammond’s younger sister, said the couple had met at the Swartkops Hotel and had been going out for only about three weeks.

“She has been working at the bar for the past eight months and that is where she met him. I have only met him once but really didn’t know him that well,” she said.

“She had just finished a double shift after working the whole day and night. There are so many unanswered questions,

“I just don’t understand why they were driving on that specific road. She lived in Sydenham and he lived in Swartkops, so where they were going I really don’t know.”

Dorfling said Hammond’s boyfriend had fetched her from work “on occasion” and taken her home. “From what I understand, he had waited at the bar for her.

“I only found out she had died when I got a phone call this morning to say she was in hospital – but no one knew which hospital.

“I then called all the hospitals and a doctor at Livingstone Hospital told me she had passed away. The whole family is devastated – it has just been such an unexpected shock for all of us.”

Police spokesman Warrant Officer Dumile Gwavu said the postmortem would reveal the cause of the death.

The man is due to appear in the Motherwell Magistrate’s Court today.

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