Motor giant takes unusual step of seeking access to police report and family video of deadly blaze
Ford has launched an urgent court application for full access to a police inquest docket and for all the evidence in the case of Reshall Jimmy, who was killed when his Ford Kuga caught alight. The Cape Town High Court application, which police have indicated they will oppose, has been described as unusual by forensic investigators.
Attempts to get the contents of the application through court proved futile yesterday as they had been removed from the file.
But Ford has confirmed that it wants access to all the information police have on the fire which killed Jimmy, including video evidence.
Private forensic investigator David Klatzow, who is assisting Jimmy’s family, said Ford’s application was highly suspect.
Jimmy burnt to death when his 2013 Ford Kuga caught alight while he was on holiday in the Wilderness in the Western Cape in December 2015.
Since his death, nearly 40 of Ford’s family SUV Kugas – manufactured between 2013 and 2014 – have burst into flames across South Africa.
Three have caught alight in the past five days while four others, including one owned by a Port Elizabeth woman, burnt between Christmas and New Year.
At least one of the four vehicles caught alight after it had been inspected by a Ford dealership in Port Elizabeth to check on its safety.
The vehicle is owned by Port Elizabeth mother Maria Daniels, who said after it burst into flames: “If I hadn’t stopped when I did, we could all have been killed. The way the flames spread so quickly we barely had time to get out of the car. “It’s a miracle we are still alive.” After the Jimmy story broke last year, and following a social media outcry and complaints by customers, Ford was summoned to the National Consumer Commission, where it agreed to inspect the affected models by next month.
But some Kuga drivers have demanded a recall of the vehicle, which Ford has declined, saying it needed data to support such a move.
Klatzow said Ford was not entitled to the docket as it was potentially a “culpable component” in the case.
“If the inquest finds that there is a fault on Jimmy’s car which caused his death, it [Ford] can be held liable in subsequent civil or criminal proceedings,” he said.
Private forensic fire investigator Danny Joubert, who conducted an inspection on Jimmy’s car, said Ford’s application was unusual.
“Ford realises that it is juggling a hot potato,” he said. “Ford cannot, at this time, justify why Jimmy died as he was not murdered.
“We know he died from smoke inhalation and burn wounds with his seatbelt still on.
“It’s clear Ford is looking for anything to get out of this problem.”
Ford’s news operations director, John Gardiner, said yesterday the company’s investigation was not complete, with the cause of the fire still to be determined.
“We have requested access to the police report and other investigative materials to better understand all the facts concerning the case,” he said.
“Our examination showed that the fire in Jimmy’s Kuga originated at the rear of the vehicle and not in the engine compartment.
“That is clearly evidenced by the level of fire damage to the rear and the relative lack of damage to the front of the Kuga.
“We also evaluated prior demonstrations on other vehicles to determine fire behaviour and progression.
“Our investigation found no evidence of an electrical or other vehicle origin for the fire.”
Gardiner said to be able to conclude its investigation, Ford required the material held by the SAPS and Jimmy family relating to the case.
“This is why Ford has requested the Jimmy family and the SAPS to share the ‘conclusive’ evidence in their possession,” Gardiner said.
“To date, both the SAPS and Jimmy family have declined to provide the evidence in their respective possession, more particularly the video evidence which is alleged to exist.”
Two forensic reports, which Times Media has seen, point to an electrical fault behind the dashboard on the passenger side as the cause of the fire
One report, by the police forensic laboratory, said natural fire and negligence could be excluded as causes.
“An electrical fault is the cause of the fire,” the police report said.