No recall: A Ford Kuga. Inset: Judge Elize Steyn has given police until January 23 to respond to the firm’s request to see the evidence on Reshall Jimmy’s death when his Kuga caught fire. Picture: THE HERALD
No recall: A Ford Kuga. Inset: Judge Elize Steyn has given police until January 23 to respond to the firm’s request to see the evidence on Reshall Jimmy’s death when his Kuga caught fire. Picture: THE HERALD

Ford’s court application for access to police dockets on the death of a man who succumbed to a fire in his Ford Kuga sports utility vehicle (SUV) has been postponed to February 9.

High Court in Cape Town judge Elize Steyn on Wednesday gave police until January 23 to respond to claims made by Pretoria-based Ford Southern Africa.

The company submitted an affidavit to the court asking to see the results of police investigations into the death of Reshall Jimmy, who died after his vehicle caught fire in Wilderness in December 2015.

Since then, there have been reports of dozens more Kugas bursting into flames, although no one has been injured in
these incidents.

Local forensic investigators hired by the family say that the fire started under the dashboard and was the result of an electrical fault. Ford investigators disagree.

Spokesman John Gardiner said: "Our examination showed that the fire originated at the rear of the vehicle and not in the engine compartment. That is clearly evidenced by the level of fire damage to the rear and the relative lack of damage to the front of the Kuga.

"We also evaluated prior demonstrations on other vehicles to determine fire behaviour and progression. Our investigation found no evidence of an electrical or other vehicle origin for the fire."

Like the other burnt Kugas, the Jimmy vehicle was a 1.6-litre model built between 2013 and 2014. Ford has been under heavy pressure to recall all 6,300 of these vehicles sold in SA, but while it has encouraged owners to have their vehicles’ cooling systems checked, it says it needs to properly understand the cause of the fires before launching a full-scale recall.

Product communications manager Minesh Bhagaloo said on Wednesday that police evidence was a vital part of
this process.

The respondents in the case are senior officers at the George police station, where the inquiry is based, and the Western Cape provincial police commissioner, Brig-Gen Khombinkosi Jula.

Ford has accused George police of hampering its investigations into the Jimmy fire by limiting access to the Kuga in which he died — a claim rejected by local investigators.

"It took more than a year for [police] to allow us access to physically examine Jimmy’s Kuga, and they continue to refuse to share the evidence in their possession even though we have provided them with a copy of our preliminary investigations," Bhagaloo said.

In its application on Wednesday, Ford said statements and Facebook posts by the Jimmy family alleged "deceit" by Ford in its investigations. The family said that it had "irrefutable evidence" that an electrical fault was to blame for the fire.

The family had also launched a social media campaign against Ford, causing "panic" among other Kuga owners.

Only by seeing and testing this evidence, could Ford discover what remedial action, if any, was needed to protect drivers of other Kugas, it said.

Jimmy was found dead in his car, still wearing his seatbelt. Local investigators plan to examine the car in coming days, to see if fire damage to car materials released gases that made him unconscious and prevented him from escaping.

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