Two Port Elizabeth brothers who allegedly gave a young boy a firecracker and told him to light it – causing it to explode in his face – have been released on R500 bail each following a brief appearance in the city’s magistrate’s court yesterday.
Sebastian, 27, and Demane Pillay, 25, laughed as photographers took their pictures outside the court, moments after their release from custody.
The brothers, of Summerstrand, face a charge of assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm.
They are represented by top criminal defence attorney Alwyn Griebenow, who was not in court yesterday.
Shane Witbooi, 12, a Grade 6 pupil at Rufane Donkin Primary School in Gelvandale, was severely injured during what is said to have been a “prank” during the early hours of Sunday.
Shane is in the Provincial Hospital for treatment to his eyes which were swollen shut in the explosion.
The men were also warned not to have contact with the boy or any of the state witnesses.
The pair were arrested yesterday morning after detectives went to their Summerstrand home and escorted them to the police station.
Demane works as a marine pilot at Transnet and Sebastian as an engineer at Shatterprufe.
While the brothers have so far only been charged with assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm, police say additional charges under the Explosive Act could be added at a later stage.
The charge could also later be changed to attempted murder based on findings as the investigation continues.
A third brother was not arrested as preliminary evidence suggested he was not directly involved.
The duo were detained at the Humewood police station following a two-day investigation into the explosion that left Shane with eyes that were swollen shut, split lips and burns to his face and arms.
Shane, who is in the paediatric ward at Provincial Hospital, can barely talk and is in extreme pain, according to hospital staff.
The incident happened at 2am on Sunday, when young men allegedly approached Shane in the car park across from the McDonald’s in Beach Road.
The brothers are the children of Colonel Penny Pillay, who is based at Gelvandale
Police spokeswoman Colonel Priscilla Naidu said CCTV footage from cameras along the beachfront was still being analysed.
She said preliminary investigation had originally led police to believe that Shane was handed a “cigarette” that blew up in his face.
But witnesses later told police that the men had allegedly handed the boy a “rocket” firecracker and lit it in his hands before running off.
Naidu declined to comment on the contradictory versions of events, saying the probe was ongoing and that warning statements had been taken from both suspects.
“These statements will now be used in court and it is up to the court to decide on which version of events is the truth,” she said.
Outraged grandparents James, 61, and Beatrice Witbooi, 62, said Shane had gone to the beachfront with friends but had failed to return home on Saturday night.
Family and friends spent Sunday looking for him, unaware that he had been admitted to the intensive care unit at Livingstone Hospital.
He was later transferred to the paediatric ward at Provincial Hospital.
The grandparents were only traced on Monday afternoon as Shane was unable to communicate his address.
It is not yet known if Shane was lost and trying to find his way home to Gelvandale.
Humewood police station commander Brigadier Ronald Koll condemned the incident, saying that warnings regarding fireworks and crackers had been issued for months prior to the festive season and should have been adhered to.
Both men are due to reappear in the same court on March 13.