Durban motorist Omesh Ramnarain, convicted of killing two cyclists after he crashed into them on the M4 leading out of Durban in February 2016, was given a 10-year prison sentence on Friday.
“The number of people who lose their lives in road accidents in this country is unacceptably high… it’s beyond comprehension. I believe this case is an opportunity to impose an exemplary sentence… to warn potential offenders that this is what could happen to them if they behave negligently,” Durban Regional Court Magistrate Anand Maharaj said.
Ramnarain cried frequently during the hearing and when he took the stand to ask for forgiveness from the relatives and friends of the two victims, Richard da Silva and Jarred Dwyer.
“No matter what happens to me [in sentencing], I just want to say I am so sorry and I hope you one day find it in your hearts to forgive me.”
He had a glimmer of hope of avoiding going to jail immediately when the magistrate granted him leave to appeal both the culpable homicide conviction and the newly handed down sentence.
But Maharaj then refused to grant him bail and said he must begin serving his sentence immediately.
Tears turned to stoicism as Ramnarain shook hands with his legal team, advocate Murray Pitman and attorney Reg Thomas.
His relatives wept as he went down the stairs to the cells below the court.
Evidence before the court was that Ramnarain had left a nightclub at about 05:00 and, according to witnesses, was travelling at high speed when he crashed into the two cyclists who were at the back of a pack of cyclists on a recreational ride.
The State alleged that he had been drunk at the time. He claimed he only had four Hunters Gold beers and was not under the influence of alcohol.
While several witnesses testified that they had smelled alcohol on his breath, a blood sample was taken more than two hours after the legal time limit and Maharaj acquitted him of a charge of driving under the influence.
Ramnarain’s version was that he had been driving at 100km/h behind another vehicle which blocked his view when it suddenly swerved off the road on to an off-ramp.
Moments later he heard a thud, his windscreen shattered, and then another thud.
He said he had not seen the cyclists at all.
It was also suggested that a rock found in the passenger side well of his vehicle may have been thrown at his car, causing the accident.
It was this, Pitman suggested on Friday, that could be grounds for appeal, along with the fact that his client had been convicted on his own version.
Da Silva’s life partner Sonya Ferreira and Dwyers mother, Leigh Dwyer, both testified in aggravation of sentence.
They both spoke to Ramnarain directly.
“I think everyone in this room and beyond knows that justice has only been partially served. I was there [that morning] – I saw how drunk you were. You have destroyed and crushed the rest of my life. Nobody should have to say goodbye to the broken body of their beloved under a silver blanket on a hard cold road because someone like you choses to disregard the law and puts other people’s lives in mortal danger,” Ferreira said.