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Evidence suggests collision occurred in death crash driver’s lane – expert

In the ongoing trial of fatal road crash survivor Jandre Dippenaar in the Swakopmund Regional Court last week, the defence countered the prosecution’s argument that eyewitness accounts matter, pointing to physical evidence that allegedly places the accident in Dippenaar’s lane.

Dippenaar is being prosecuted on six counts of murder and charges of reckless or negligent driving and driving without a valid licence in connection with a deadly collision that took place on 29 December 2014.

The crash near Henties Bay involved two vehicles – Dippenaar’s FJ Cruiser and a Ford Ranger occupied by the Joschko family, who were visiting Namibia from Germany.

The collision claimed the lives of Dippenaar’s three passengers – Dinah Pretorius, Charlene Schoombee and JC Horn – as well as Markus and Stephanie Joschko and their daughter Alexandra.

The only survivors were Dippenaar and the youngest member of the German family, Antonia Joschko.

Wilna Badenhorst, an expert on road accident reconstruction for the defence, told magistrate Gaynor Poulton last week that the physical evidence suggests the accident happened in Dippenaar’s lane of the road.

She disputed the prosecution’s assertion that eyewitness accounts suggested Dippenaar’s FJ Cruiser was in the wrong lane when the collision occurred.

Responding to the prosecution’s questions about the importance of eyewitness testimony in crash reconstruction, Badenhorst said experts prioritise physical evidence in recreating the incident.

“Physical evidence cannot differ and after reconstruction takes place, one can look at what eyewitness account the physical evidence does support. Sometimes witnesses lie or are mistaken,” she said.

She discounted the prosecution’s assertion that eyewitnesses observed Dippenaar overtaking and causing the accident in the wrong lane, claiming there were no tyre marks indicating this.

“The FJ Cruiser was in the correct lane, or had at least managed to turn back into the correct lane, before it collided with the Ranger,” she said.

According to Badenhorst, the FJ Cruiser, contrary to the eyewitnesses’ statements, was in its own lane at the time of the accident. She said all four wheels of the FJ Cruiser were in its correct lane, while two of the wheels of the oncoming Ranger were in the incorrect lane (in Dippenaar’s lane) at the time of impact.

The defence expert also raised doubts about the state’s interpretation of the vehicles’ final resting positions.

“The final resting position of the FJ Cruiser is the problem,” she said, because if the accident had unfolded as the state proposed, “the FJ Cruiser would be far more to the side of the road, or even off the road, in its final resting position”, which was not the case.

Despite some differences between her calculations and those of another defence expert, Badenhorst agreed with the conclusion that the accident took place in Dippenaar’s lane, possibly due to the Ranger swerving into it.

The court, during previous eye-witness testimony, heard that Dippenaar was travelling faster than the speed limit of 100 kilometres per hour.

The witnesses’ testimonies recounted Dippenaar’s FJ Cruiser overtaking other vehicles on a “blind rise” just moments before the accident occurred. Some testified to a scene where they saw the Cruiser disappear over a hill, followed by a puff of smoke just seconds later. Others recalled the horrifying moment they saw Dippenaar’s vehicle collide head-on with the Joschko family’s Ford Ranger.

The witnesses’ versions corroborate the account of the accident provided by Antonia Joschko, who said her father was driving in the correct lane when Dippenaar’s FJ Cruiser suddenly emerged in the wrong lane, causing her father to swerve to the right in a desperate attempt to avert a collision.

The trial has been postponed until August.

Dippenaar is represented by defence counsel Louis Botes and Petrie Theron, while the state is represented by Ethel Ndlovu and Faith Nyaungwa.