Friends killed in freeway horror

Gareth Wilson

A PLANNED outing to the beach ended tragically yesterday when five friends, including a Lawson Brown matric pupil and two young star cricketers, died in a horror crash on the N2 in Port Elizabeth in which a sixth victim was a pedestrian.

Two of the victims were brothers.

The driver of the car, General Motors employee Vernal Charles, 27, and three others – Vivian Williams, 22, school pupil Roderick de Jager, 19, and Keagen Arkeldien, 19 – all died at the scene.

Charles’s brother, NMMU student Angelo, 19, was critically injured and died later in hospital.

The accident happened at 9.30am just before the Kempston Road off- ramp after the car had entered the freeway system at the Stanford Road on-ramp, heading towards Settlers Way and the beach at Summerstrand.

According to police, Vernal Charles had swerved in a bid to avoid hitting the pedestrian who had run across the road.

Police said the pedestrian had not been identified by late last night as the body had been mutilated to the extent that neither sex nor age could yet be determined.

Police said preliminary evidence indicated speeding could have been a contributing factor in the crash.

Four of the five victims, all of Grootboom Street in Arcadia, were flung metres into the air after the Opel Astra they were travelling in crashed into barrier posts and a boundary on the N2. It then partially knocked down a road sign, and then flew over a stormwater canal, rolling several times and landing on its roof.

Police said the car eventually came to a stop about 100m from the point of first impact.

Passing motorists alerted the emergency services.

The road was blocked for hours as debris was removed.

Sobbing family and friends arrived at the scene within minutes to see bodies still lying on the side of the road.

The shattered group described the five as “best friends who all grew up together”.

Police suspect Vernal Charles lost control of the car after it collided with the pedestrian.

The pedestrian’s badly mutilated body was found 15m from the vehicle.

Vernal and Angelo’s devastated father, John, sat on a rock outside his home yesterday, weeping softly.

Friends and family were gathered around him.

The shattered father said he had been alerted by a police officer at the scene who lived in Grootboom Street.

“I can’t believe my boys are gone. They were all best friends. This is all like a bad dream and I am just waiting to wake up,” he said.

Desperately clutching his cellphone, he added: “I am sitting here hoping someone is going to call and tell me that they made a mistake and it is the wrong people.

“I hope the police and hospital made a mistake and they are all going to come home just now.”

His sons were “cricket lovers”, with elder brother Vernal part of the emerging players programme and Angelo having been awarded EP schools colours.

EP Cricket president Graeme Sauls said the sports fraternity was in mourning.

“We are all shocked and devastated. This is really a major loss to cricket,” Sauls said.

“Vernal was playing for our emerging side and was probably one of the best amateur players in the country.

“Vernal and Angelo were both on the way to the top and now they have been taken from us.”

Roderick de Jager’s father, Patrick Mintoor, was on his way to church when he received a call from his daughter telling him his son was dead and to go to the accident scene.

“I thought she was joking and told her not to play with death. She then said she was not joking,” he said.

“I did not know what to do. My heart sank and I drove there.”

Mintoor said he saw all the bodies alongside the road when he arrived.

“I told the police I wanted to see, to make sure it was them. I saw all of them just lying there.

“There are just so many things that are going through my head. I hope they have gone to a better place. We cannot believe that they are gone.”

Mintoor said the five victims had grown up together and were “inseparable”.

“If he [Vernal] had just swerved the other way, it might have been different but we will never know what happened.

“The municipality needs to do something about these pedestrians on the side of the road.

“This could have been avoided.”

Crying friends gathered outside the young victims’ homes yesterday to pay their respects.

Close friend Brian Bezuidenhout, 19, said everyone was still in shock.

“We just can’t believe it. Everyone is devastated,” he said.

Police accident experts have taken over the investigation.

However, police said preliminary evidence indicated speeding could have been a contributing factor in the crash.

Police spokesman Captain Stanley Jarvis said the friends had told their parents they were going to the beach at Summerstrand.

He said the wrecked vehicle had been impounded as evidence.

Police are investigating a case of culpable homicide.

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