In a landmark court ruling, a three-year prison sentence was recently handed down in the Kuilsriver Magistrate’s Court to Geoffrey Merrick who had killed a cyclist in 2013 in a hit-and-run incident. Merrick’s driver’s license was also suspended for six months.
In May 2013, Merrick crashed into Dr Koos Roux who at the time was cycling with his son on Bottelary Road, well within the road shoulder. Merrick then fled the scene. The police arrested Merrick ten days later when debris found on the scene matched that of his car. Merrick was found guilty of culpable homicide as well as three Road Act infringements. Sections 61 (1) (a),(b) and (c) of the National Road Traffic Act 93 of 1996, which states the following:
- Section 61 (1) (a), “that the driver, must immediately stop the vehicle and report the accident;
- Section 61 (1) (b) – ascertain the nature and extent of any injury sustained by any person; and
- Section 61 (1) (c) – if a person is injured, render such assistance to the injured person as he or she may be capable of rendering”.
“This is the first time that a prison sentence has been handed down in a fatal hit-and-run incident involving a cyclist in South Africa,” said Robert Vogel, CEO of the Pedal Power Association.
In 2013, a law was promulgated in the Western Cape that makes it compulsory for motorists to overtake a cyclist with a minimum passing distance of 1m. “Cyclists feel ignored by the legal system when the laws protecting them are not applied, but this might change after this ground-breaking verdict,” Vogel added.
According to magistrate Abdul Kader Jamalie, Merrick deprived the deceased of his right to live and the Roux family of a husband and a father. The magistrate added that Merrick was grossly negligent as he left the victim and his shocked son next to the road to fend for themselves. Mr Roux might have survived the crash, if Mr Merrick had remained at the scene to assist.
The late cyclist’s wife, Beth Roux, said she was relieved that the four-year trial is finally over. “Both my son and I are happy with the sentence, and we hope that the sentence will send out a message to motorists to be on the lookout for cyclists and to be more careful when approaching and overtaking cyclists on the road,” she said.
PPA assisted the family when the case nearly came to a standstill, when, through its firm of attorneys, appointed Advocate Ross McKernan of the Cape Bar Council, to assist the State Prosecutor with the prosecution of Merrick.
“We are extremely grateful to the PPA for their assistance. We believe that the case would have been thrown out of court if the PPA did not assist us. Both Kobus and I cannot thank the Association enough,” Mrs Roux said outside the court after sentence was handed down.
State prosecutor Luzanne Williams also expressed her satisfaction with the outcome of the trial. “This is the sentence that we have asked for, so we are pleased with the outcome,” Williams said.
Sentencing was delayed until 22 September, with a sentence of house arrest with community service initially expected.
“The magistrate asked the prosecutor to provide more details on community service programmes to guide him in sentencing. The prosecutor asked that PPA provide a list of cycling-related programmes that Mr Merrick could be ordered to attend. She felt it would be more relevant to the crime and possibly help with rehabilitation,” Vogel said. “I was also allowed the opportunity to explain why cyclists felt the legal system was letting them down and that this case was being watched closely, in the hope that an appropriate sentence would be handed down,” Vogel explained.
“While some might not agree with the length of the jail term and feel it’s too short, in terms of what was expected, this is the first time a driver has been found guilty of killing a cyclist and sentenced to jail. This is also the first time the prosecution has asked a cycling organisation for input before sentencing and to make a case for the plight of cyclists on our roads,” Vogel said.
Mr Merrick’s lawyer has appealed the sentence, but it could take a few years to get to the High Court. In the meantime, the sentence stands.
“We certainly hope that other magistrates look to this case for guidance when it comes to sentencing in cases involving cyclists being killed or seriously injured and we are more than willing to testify again,” Vogel concluded.