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Outrage as killer bus driver back behind wheel

The driver of a bus that killed 43 passengers at a black spot on the Maai Mahiu-Narok road three years ago is back on the road even though the authorities had announced that his licence had been cancelled.

Mr Steve Sola Mutia, who sparked national outrage and attracted the attention of President Uhuru Kenyatta after his bus was involved in the deadly accident in Ntulele in August 2013, has been driving buses on the Nairobi-Mwingi-Garissa route.

This is even as it came to light that the driver, popularly known as Sola, had been involved in other fatal accidents but returned to work after a lull.

This turns the spotlight squarely on the National Transport and Safety Authority and traffic police department.

After the Ntulele accident, President Kenyatta said both the driver and owner of the bus, known as City to City, would be held accountable.

Mr Mutia is facing charges of causing 43 deaths by dangerous driving and last appeared at a court in Narok last week.

He allegedly lost control of the 62-seater Homa Bay-bound bus which plunged into a valley, killing 43 people instantly. He went into hiding but was later arrested.

The owner of the ill-fated bus, Mr Mohammed Sheikh, was also charged with running a defective vehicle and failing to keep a record of his drivers.

Reflecting the national outrage, then Transport Cabinet Secretary Michael Kamau bluntly said: “This is not an accident, this is murder and somebody has to be answerable.”

Then Traffic Commandant Samuel Kimaru, now the Firearms Chief Licensing Officer, ordered all buses belonging to the City to City firm to be impounded and the driver’s licence revoked.

BANNED BY POLICE

However, the fresh revelations raise questions on how Mr Mutia manoeuvred his way back to the road before the conclusion of his trial and after he was banned by traffic police.

The 48-year-old driver told the Sunday Nation he was never banned but applied for fresh documents after the accident.

“I lost my driving licence alongside my wallet, mobile phone and other personal things in that accident. When I applied for a replacement, I wasn’t denied,” he said.

Mr Mutia, who is out on bail, said he went back to driving to fend for his family after his left hand healed from fractures sustained in the crash.

After the accident, Mr Mutia allegedly admitted the bus had excess passengers and was overloaded with luggage despite him warning the two conductors, who died in the accident.

He, however, denied he went into hiding, saying he fled to avoid being lynched.

“I contacted some cousins who picked me up in Narok and drove me to safety. I was traumatised and confused, but I surrendered to the police after being treated,” he said.

On Saturday, the NTSA said it was trying to establish if it was true that the driver got back his licence.

“We are checking out records to establish if the said licence was re-issued or if it is a genuine one,” said Director-General Francis Meja.

But in a shocking fresh twist, our investigation established that Mr Mutia had, in the past, been involved in a number of accidents in which at least 10 passengers died.

ARRESTED AND CHARGED

He has subsequently faced separate judicial proceedings. According to family and police sources, who spoke in confidence, he has in each case escaped with minor injuries.

In 2005, Mr Mutia was arrested and charged in a Thika court after his bus knocked down and killed two hawkers. It was not immediately clear what the outcome of the case was.

Friends and relatives, however, said Mr Mutia is an experienced driver who grew up behind the wheel but his career has been blighted by accidents.

In 2006, a bus he was driving crashed near the Kanyonyoo junction on the Mwingi-Thika highway, killing some passengers and injuring others.

Mr Francis Mutemi, a resident of Mui Basin in Mwingi East who survived the accident, said the driver lost control as he negotiated a corner.

“I’ve known Sola for years and I recall that day clearly. We boarded his Nairobi-bound bus in Mwingi at around 7 am,” he said.

Mr Mutemi, who still walks with a limp due to injuries he sustained in the accident, alleged the driver was speeding and overtaking dangerously.

“We had done only 40 minutes of the journey and there were other buses competing for passengers,” he said.

Mr Mutemi claimed Mr Muita disappeared for a few months after that accident but reappeared to continue driving.

His story was corroborated by Mr Delywash Ramzan, a manager at Mombasa Raha Bus Company at the time.

WENT INTO HIDING

“I cannot recall the exact date but it was in 2006 when Sola left Mwingi town for a morning trip to Nairobi. I later got a call from the office and rushed to the scene where I found the bus lying on its side,” he said.

Mr Mutia admitted to the Sunday Nation that he was involved in the accident but denied there were any deaths.

“There were no deaths in that accident. I am not a careless driver. It was only bad luck that the bus veered off the road, injuring a few passengers,” he said.

He also denied claims that he went into hiding fearing arrest, saying he was then operating with a police abstract after his licence was confiscated the previous year.

Mr Mutia was to run into trouble again in October 2007 when he allegedly knocked down the conductor of his bus as he jostled for passengers at Mui market in Mwingi.

According to a public inquest, the conductor, Mr Sammy Kaka, died on the spot after he fell and was run over by a Family Coach Services bus driven by Mr Mutia.

Mr Elijah Nzomo, a witness, told the inquest that Mr Mutia escaped lynching by a mob.

The inquest, however, absolved Mr Mutia of any blame and acquitted him.

NTSA communication director Dominic Kabiru said there was no complete database of drivers involved in accidents.

He said: “It is difficult to say it is the driver who caused the accident. There could be so many reasons — mechanical, road engineering and others,” he said.