Overcome by anger after he saw an ambulance without a siren allegedly overtake four vehicles on a dangerous blind rise, an optometrist became embroiled in a bizarre chase from Uitenhage to Port Elizabeth’s Livingstone Hospital.
Graaff-Reinet optometrist Johan Minnaar was so determined to ensure that authorities were notified of what he had witnessed, he followed the racing emergency vehicle to Livingstone and snapped photographs of the medic occupants and their patient.
While the provincial Department of Health has said the ambulance was transporting a critically ill patient, it has undertaken to investigate the incident.
In a further twist, it emerged that while ambulance personnel had tried to stop the matter from being reported to the media, it was the authorities who ended up approaching The Herald to get to the bottom of the affair.
Before details came to light of what had triggered the chase in the first place, provincial health spokesman Sizwe Kupelo said it was initially believed that Minnaar had been trying to take a picture of the patient in the ambulance. As a result, he asked The Herald to help track down Minnaar to clear up the confusion.
Kupelo had been told earlier about the matter by the Sarah Baartman district manager for Emergency Medical Services, Rajen Mahabeer. “When he [Minnaar] was asked [by ambulance personnel] why he took the picture, he replied: ‘You know why’,” Kupelo said.
Minnaar said later that ambulance personnel had eventually traced him through his vehicle registration number and had sent the Graaff-Reinet ambulance chief – coincidentally a patient of Minnaar’s – to beg him not to go to the newspaper with his evidence.
“I don’t have energy for issues, I am very busy,” Minnaar said. He said the drama had star ted at 1.40pm on Wednesday. “I was driving to Port Elizabeth,” Minnaar said. “About 3km outside Uitenhage there is a long blind rise with a solid barrier line.
“There was an SUV in front of me as well as a cash-in-transit vehicle and an articulated truck. “We were travelling at about 100km/h.
“Suddenly, this ambulance came from behind, overtaking us all. “When it was safe to overtake, I chased after the ambulance. “The driver realised that I was following [him] and tried to get away. “At one stage, the ambulance was going at 120km/h in an 80km/h zone. “I never heard sirens. At one stage, I did see two lights flashing at the back [of the ambulance].
“I was determined to follow it, but lost it when it drove through a red robot. “I phoned the number on the back and spoke to a woman in East London, who told me that the municipal manager would get back to me.”
Minnaar said that after losing sight of the ambulance, he had carried on driving until he spotted it again near Algoa Park. “I started my chase again and followed it all the way to Livingstone Hospital,” he said.
“At the hospital, a woman got out. I asked her where they were from and she said Kirkwood.
“I asked who the driver was and she said it was none of my business. “I wanted to get pictures to have proper proof for my complaint. “They sat in the ambulance for 10 minutes before taking the patient out.
“When I took some more pictures, the man inside tried to convince bystanders to grab my phone. “This morning [yesterday], the head of the [Graaff-Reinet] ambulance service was here, begging me not to go to the newspapers.
“I don’t think that driver should ever be allowed to drive an ambulance again,”Minnaar said.
Kupelo said they would investigate Minnaar’s claims by reviewing the ambulance’s internal tracking system.
“Without condoning reckless driving, I understand that the ambulance was transporting a critically ill patient,” he said. “We will study the tracking system and deal with the driver through internal processes.”