Blood-cudlling details have been reconstructed of how a bus driver seemingly thoughtlessly put 40 passengers on the path of an on-coming train, then jumped off, leaving 13 of them to be crushed to death and 21 others critically injured. According to eye witnesses and survivors, the dawn accident at Mutindwa rail crossing, at Umoja estate, in which a bus was rammed by a commuter train, appeared more like an intentional criminal act than an accident.
The bus, one of many tagged UmmoInner (to denote Umoja-Innercore) had been caught up in the usual traffic jam that clogs the road-rail intersection at 7.30am. Eye witnesses said a police officer manning the junction flagged the driver to pull out of the traffic, apparently for inspection. By that time, the second of three morning commuter trains that ply the Dandora-city track was hooting from the direction of Donholm.
“All vehicles had stopped as they do when the train hoots. But this bus pulled out of the jam queue and just surged to cross the railway, apparently to escape from the police officer who intended to inspect something on it,” said Joe Mwai, a hawker at Mutindwa market. The train crew, apparently noticing the danger, hooted persistently as the 20 carriage engine rumbled to the junction. The matatu driver, maybe hoping to beat the train to the crossing, accelerated.
“Passengers could be heard screaming, many were saying, stop, stop, but the bus sped on,” said Mwai. As the bus’ front wheels made it over the rail tracks, it appeared to stall. Witnesses said passengers screamed in horror as the train closed in on them, with the train driver raising a red cloth outside his window. The bus driver, at this jucture, jumped through the window and fled. About five passengers also manage to jump off and flee. Then it happened!
The 20-tonne diesel locomotive engine, travelling at 40 kilometres per hour, rammed the bus that still had 35 passengers on board. “It was terrifying, the bang of metal against metal was so loud amid the screaming of passengers. It dragged the bus with it for about 100 metres,” said another witness, Sarah Otieno. By the time the train came to a stop, mostly pushed to break by the bus wreckage, there was blood, clothing, shoes, handbags, dismembered body parts, making it one of the most horrific accident scenes in recent times.
At least thirteen people perished while 22 were badly injured. Police said the bus, whose fleet has a reputation for careless drivers, had just picked passengers from Umoja when it was hit by the train, most of them heading for work in town. Railway Police commandant Kirimi Ringera confirmed the dead as five men, five women while the gender of three casualties could not be identified immediately as they had been ripped to pieces Witnesses who frantically freed the injured from the mangled wreck took some to Mama Lucy Kibaki Hospital, two kilometres from the scene and others to Kenyatta National Hospital.
According to medics from both KNH and Mama Lucy Kibaki Hospital, two victims sustained severe spinal in- juries while scores suffered deep head injuries, multiple cuts, limb fractures and pelvic dislocations. Others had their arms and legs severed. The killer driver, identified as Ed- ward Githae, of UmmoInner Sacco bus, KBQ 474C, fled from the scene immediately after the accident and was said to have entered the nearby God’s Last Appeal Church, from where he fled as some people pursued him.
Survivors said there had been loud music in the bus and the driver had his earphones on, a factor that may have rendered him deaf to the hooting train. Two victims, Mary Muthoni and Sarah Wanja, a Kenya Police officer and a student at Kenya Institute of Management respectively were among those treated and discharged from KNH. Wanja gave a horrifying account of the accident, saying the driver defied passengers’ and pedestrians’ warnings not to proceed to the railway line as the train was approaching.
“Passengers warned him as pedestrians screamed to warn him of the oncoming train, but this seemed to fall on deaf ears,” said Wanja. According to eye witnesses, many passengers tried to jump through the windows of the bus but were dragged along while others were crushed. As the bus was dragged, its wreckage hit a private saloon car near the railway, injuring the occupants.
Stacy Nyambura, who was at the Mutindwa market ready to open her stall, said the ill-fated bus overlapped a traffic jam and proceed to cross the railway in a hurry. “Other vehicles were waiting for the train to pass as it had already hooted, but the driver of this bus overlapped and by that time the train had clossed in and rammed onto the bus,” said Nyambura. Ringera said rail-crossing level rules stipulate clearly that all vehicles and passengers give way to trains.
Ringera said they had information from eyewitnesses that the driver blatantly ignored the oncoming train and under-estimated the speed of the oncoming train. Health Cabinet secretary James Macharia who visited the injured at KHN said: “We are very distressed by this occurrence. However, doctors are already attending to the survivors. We will be able to profile all of them after reconciling data from hospitals and the police.”
Rift Valley Railways Chief Executive Officer Darlan David said they were carrying out investigations and collecting information from police to ascertain what exactly happened. “We are going to carry out proper investigations in collaboration with the police and the various hospitals where the victims have been taken to find out what happened,” he said. The Rift Valley Railways urged drivers to approach all rail level-crossings with caution to avert future accidents that could easily be avoided.
However, Nairobi Senator Mike Sonko who went to the scene complained that the Railways had not constructed barriers and there were no warning lights at the crossing to warn drivers. Ringera, however, said the matter is now with the Railways Criminal Investigation Department and urged anybody with information to share with the officers in order to get to the bottom of the matter.
He also attributed the accident to the temporary structures constructed along the line at the crossing near Mutindwa market, saying they make it difficult for drivers to see trains approaching the crossing. Nairobi Traffic Commandant Samuel Kimaru said police were looking the driver.