The family of a Nelson Mandela University student killed in an alleged drunk-driving accident wept bitterly yesterday when they heard the blood test kit used on the accused had expired the month before the tragic crash.
The news was delivered after the devastated family of Jamie Baartzes, 19, had listened to an anguished witness speaking to the 10111 call centre minutes after the fatal accident on the M4 freeway near the Russell Road turnoff in March 2016.
The call by state witness Izak Nell had many in tears, with one family member walking out of the courtroom weeping as Nell described seeing an accident where one vehicle was travelling on the wrong side of the freeway.
But the case against Amos Sinyanya, 30, was dealt a severe blow when – shortly after the state closed its case – his attorney, Zolile Ngqeza, asked that the drunk-driving charge be withdrawn on the basis that the blood test kit had already expired when it was used to test his client.
State witness Sabelo Ncwane, an analyst from the SAPS forensic lab in Durban, told the court when he tested Sinyanya’s blood sample it showed he was nearly three times over the legal limit.
His blood alcohol level was 0.14mg to 100ml of blood – the legal limit is 0.05mg.
Ncwane submitted a document to court containing details of the test kit, including serial numbers and the expiration date, which was February 2016.
Baartzes – an education student – was killed on March 14 2016 when Sinyanya hit her Chevrolet Spark head-on with his BMW 320i while allegedly driving on the wrong side of the freeway.
She was on her way to her Sunridge Park home after a late-night study session, while Sinyanya was allegedly driving under the influence after he left Parliament Street in Central.
Ncwane told the court he did not know if the fact that the test kit had expired would have influenced the blood alcohol reading.
“I don’t know if it would have an impact on the sample – the expiration is only for the sterilised needle,” he said.
Ncwane told Ngqeza he would have to subpoena the doctor who had taken the blood sample to testify.
However, Dr Emmanuel Mungazi had previously testified for the state that he was not sure what the effect would be.
Earlier in the trial, it had been confirmed that the test kits were supplied by the SAPS, which was therefore in charge of ensuring they were in good condition.
State prosecutor Theuns de Jager asked the court to adjourn the matter so he could call an expert to testify on the validity of the expired test kit.
However, magistrate John Montgomery said the state had been given enough time to consult with the necessary experts and witnesses.
“This specific issue was the reason why we postponed the matter on the prior date – the state had ample time to obtain this, therefore the application is denied,” Montgomery said.
Ngqeza then applied for the court to withdraw the charge of driving under the influence because of lack of evidence in view of the test kit being expired, which Montgomery granted.
Sinyanya still faces charges of culpable homicide and reckless and negligent driving.
Baartzes’ father, Justin Uren, said later the family was bitterly disappointed by the magistrate’s decision to withdraw the charge.
“It is purely technical – we believe he was drunk,” a tearful Uren said.
“Technically, the evidence wasn’t there to support this.”
He urged the public not to drink and drive and called on the SAPS and the National Prosecuting Authority to develop systems and processes to prevent people getting off on technical issues.
“As a family, we are very disappointed and all we hope is that the necessary people will learn from this,” Uren said.
After the state closed its case, Ngqeza asked the court to postpone the matter again, to allow him time to listen to all the recordings between the various stakeholders and the 10111 call centre and to consult with his client.
Ngqeza requested further that he be given access to state witnesses, especially two women passengers – Siphokazi Bobela and Nomfundo Booi – who were with Sinyanya.
They have already testified for the state but, according to Ngqeza, because Sinyanya was acquitted on the drunk-driving charge, he needed to consult with them on other matters. Montgomery granted the application. Family representative Ashley Martin said it was a tough week for the family with the second anniversary of Baartzes’ death tomorrow.
He said the fact that the case had been postponed further was a heavy blow to all of them.
“We just want it over and done with now, and to clear Jamie’s name to prove she did nothing wrong,” Martin said.
Earlier in the day, a former SAPS profiler and specialist at Vodacom, Susan Rass, who is responsible for the retrieval of data records for criminal and civil cases, confirmed Nell’s phone call to the 10111 call centre.
In the recording, Nell states where the accident occurred and says that one vehicle was driving on the wrong side of the road.
The matter was postponed to May 8.
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