Six dead and 39 injured, that’s the toll of the terrible accident caused by a runaway car in Belgium on Sunday 20 March. The driver drove into the crowd, which was taking part in a carnival, and, because of excessive speed, could not avoid the impact facing this “human wall”. He was incarcerated. Paolo F., 34, was imprisoned after being charged with “manslaughter” and “involuntary assault and battery”, announced the Mons (South) prosecutor’s office at a press conference.
His passenger, his cousin Antonino F., 32, with whom he was returning from a nightclub at the time, was released on conditions after his indictment for “failure to assist a person in danger”. In particular, he is forbidden to come into contact with Paolo or relatives of the victims.
The accident happened shortly before 5 a.m. (4 a.m. GMT) on Sunday in Strépy-Bracquegnies, a section of the commune of La Louvière in French-speaking Belgium, when a powerful BMW hit a group walking on the roadway, for the “pick-up” from the homes of people in costume, before a carnival parade. The shock was so violent that a victim crossed the windshield and landed “in the passenger compartment”, according to the prosecution. The driver, “in a state of shock”, did not stop until several hundred meters further. The toll left behind is heavy: six dead and 39 injured, many of whom were still being treated in hospital 48 hours later. On Sunday, the authorities had reported ten people seriously injured among the injured.
In the midst of the return of pre-Easter carnivals, after a two-year hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic, this drama has upset Belgium and reignited the debate on the supposed laxity of the authorities with regard to speeders.
“Screams and blows on the car”
The driver had already been deprived of a license in the past. He boasted of being a speed lover behind the wheel, to the point of staging himself on social networks. Before the investigating judge, on the night of Monday to Tuesday, he admitted that he was driving at excessive speed on Sunday morning. He evaluated it at 90 km / h in an area limited to 50, said the prosecution. A time mentioned, the hypothesis of the absence of braking against the group of revelers has however been denied. “A first analysis of the CCTV images shows that the rear lights of the vehicle light up, which indicates that there has been braking”, underlined to AFP Damien Verheyen, spokesperson for the prosecution.
For his part, Frank Discepoli, the driver’s lawyer, explained that the latter had suddenly found himself facing “a human wall” while he was in the middle of a discussion, “returned” to his passenger, on a road taken daily to his delivery job. The two cousins are from La Louvière. “In a few seconds, he is faced with a tragedy, the windshield explodes, he himself is covered in blood. He sees nothing, hears screams, knocks on his vehicle… He did not imagine at that time that he found himself in a carnival, ”said Mr.and Discepoli on RTBF radio.
The suspect “fully recognizes his recklessness”
“He totally recognizes his recklessness”, but “we are in a totally involuntary context, it is purely accidental”, insisted the lawyer, when the investigation had been opened on Sunday for “murders”, suggesting a deliberate act .
The driver had been drinking, but the breathalyser showed only a slight overrun of the authorized limit: “0.29 mg per liter of exhaled air instead of 0.22”, according to Damien Verheyen. He also underwent a saliva test which did not reveal any drug use, but blood tests are still in progress. Manslaughter in Belgium can be worth up to five years in prison. But the prosecution did not rule out that the qualification could still evolve during the investigation.