The late Reshall Jimmy was not up to no good or trying to commit suicide when his Ford Kuga caught alight with him inside it in the Wilderness, an inquest in the Western Cape High Court found this week.
After an exhaustive investigation, which included bringing half of a Kuga into the courtroom for expert testimony, Judge Robert Henney found that the fire was caused by an electrical fault in the front of the vehicle between the dashboard and the windscreen.
However, he could not find evidence that Ford was responsible for it.
His sister, Renisha, said that although it was an emotional day, she found comfort in knowing that the world would now know that all the rumours of him being up to no good were fabrications.
“The world will know that he was a good person who lost his life in a horrible manner,” she said.
“His reputation has been cleared. We still miss him every day.”
Jimmy’s charred remains were found inside the burnt-out Kuga when the fire brigade put the fire out on a side road in the Wilderness on 4 December, 2015.
Bystanders were puzzled that he had made no attempt to get out of the car, and at first did not know there was anybody in the car.
“In my view, it is clear that, based on the probabilities of this case, it is highly unlikely in the absence of any evidence that the deceased had a desire to commit suicide, or that he was unconscious before the fire,” said Henney in his inquest findings.
He said the only probable conclusion based on the evidence is that Jimmy was overcome by gases, and stupefied to the extent that he was unable to exit his motor vehicle when the fire started.
In Henney’s view, based on evidence presented to him, the cause of the fire was an electrical fault in the area between the dashboard and windscreen.
“How this electrical fault came about is not clear to this court,” said Henney. “There is no evidence that this was caused by a fault inherent in the manufacturing or functioning of this vehicle.”
Henney said there are no suspects, and there is no evidence to show that Jimmy may have been involved in anything that could have led to his death, and no evidence that a crime may have been committed that led to his death.
“In terms of section 16(3), the court is unable to find that the death of the deceased was brought about by any act or omission amounting to an offence on the part of any person,” stated Henney.
His death occurred not long after he had checked into a hotel in the Wilderness area of the southern Cape.
At first, what looked like casino chips were examined, and CCTV footage from a casino was viewed, as part of intimations that Jimmy may have been up to no good before he died.
There were suggestions of bullet casings, which later turned out to be part of an airbag, and the mystery sighting of a car full of “coloured” men near him before the car went up in flames.
All of that was set aside as Henney pored through the evidence presented to him, to come to his conclusion.
He also said it was unlikely that the fire would have been caused by items such as a lighter, a cellphone charger or a vape, as there would have been signs of Jimmy trying to stamp it out.
Before the finalisation of evidence, the family’s lawyer, Gerrie Nel, withdrew from the proceedings, with Renisha in agreement. In an affidavit on 19 July, 2019, she said a finding of “undetermined” would be just.
The purpose of an inquest is to establish if the death was caused by an act of omission or an offence.
Ford said at the time that it welcomed the inquest because of the rumour and innuendo since Jimmy’s death.
Since Jimmy’s death, there had been 52 incidents to the knowledge of Ford in similar engines, but no injuries.
At least 4 670 vehicles were recalled in January 2017 to rectify engine cooling deficiency.
The vehicles recalled were made in Spain between 8 May, 2012, and 27 September, 2014.
They had been prone to overheating due to a lack of coolant circulation. This led to a hairline crack in the cylinder head and a pressurised oil leak, which spilled on to heated surfaces, resulting in engine bay fires.