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Death of Swedish volunteer in Cape Town in 2016 sparks call for stiffer sentencing in drunken driving matters as case resumes

Death of Swedish volunteer in Cape Town in 2016 sparks call for stiffer sentencing in drunken driving matters as case resumes
Holding placards outside the Cape Town Magistrates’ Court on Thursday are (from left) Caro Smit, founder of South Africans Against Drunk Driving, Maria Otterbeck, mother of Swedish volunteer Aksel Otterbeck who was killed after being struck by a car in Table View in 2016, and Erik Kolman. (Picture: Brenton Geach)

At present, any driver convicted of drunk driving faces imprisonment of up to six years or a minimum fine of R2,000 and the risk of having their driver’s licence suspended.

In December 2016, a Swedish volunteer, Aksel Otterbeck, was knocked over in Cape Town by a driver allegedly under the influence of alcohol. Otterbeck died and nearly six years later the trial has not yet been finalised.

On the day of the incident, 14 December 2016, Otterbeck and a group of about 10 international volunteers were walking down Arum Road in Table View. They were on their way to Pool Café along the beachfront when a car crashed into them.

Otterbeck and the other volunteers worked at the nonprofit organisation SAVE Volunteering. The postmortem showed that every bone in the Swede’s body had been shattered. He died of his injuries and another six volunteers were injured.

drunken driving swedish volunteer death

Maria Otterbeck, mother of late Swedish volunteer Aksel Otterbeck, holds a photograph of her and her son. (Photo: Brenton Geach)

The volunteers who testified in court all claim the car swerved from side to side and was “speeding” when it crashed into the group.

Proceedings resumed in the Cape Town Regional Court on Thursday, after a two-year delay because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The State’s last witness was Frederic Coppelmans from the Netherlands.

Like all the volunteers, Coppelmans testified that the accused, David Futter, was “speeding and slammed into” the group.

Futter is out on bail and has pleaded not guilty to culpable homicide, driving under the influence of alcohol, reckless and negligent driving and assault.

It’s Futter’s version that he hooted and flashed his lights when he noticed a group of people walking in Arum Road. He denied speeding and crashing into the group and claimed that the group moved from left to right on the road and eventually into the path of his approaching car.

drunken driving swedish volunteer death

Darryl Futter, who allegedly drove a car into international volunteers. (Photo: Brenton Geach)

Fatality statistics

In January, Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula released the 2021 festive season fatality statistics, which indicated that of the 6,169 motorists arrested, 1,586 had been arrested for drunken driving.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), drinking and driving is one of the main causes of road crashes worldwide. The WHO indicates that in high-income countries about 20% of fatally injured drivers have alcohol in their blood, while in some low-and middle-income countries these figures may be up to 69%.

A campaign to create awareness of Otterbeck’s case and show the dangers of drinking and driving is headed by Caro Smit, founder of South Africans Against Drunk Driving (Sadd). She has been with the volunteers and family every step of the way since the trial commenced.

“What we need in cases of drunk driving is swift action from the courts. Because cases take so long to finalise… people see drinking and driving as acceptable and that they can get away with [it],” she said.

Any driver convicted of drunk driving faces imprisonment of up to six years or a minimum fine of R2,000 and the risk of having their driver’s licence suspended.

drunken driving swedish volunteer death

‘I felt angry when I saw the suspect for the first time. I went up to him and I said to him, “I’m Aksel’s mother”. He just looked at me and just left. He could have said, “I’m sorry,” ’ said Aksel Otterbeck’s mother Maria Otterbeck. (Photo: Brenton Geach)

But Smit believes that this sentence is too lenient and a harsher sentence will be an effective deterrent. She said Sadd would continue to fight for justice for Otterbeck and those killed by drunken drivers. 

Otterbeck’s mother, Maria, attended the court proceedings for the first time. Outside court, she saw the accused, Futter, walked up to him and wanted to talk to him, but to no avail.

“I felt angry when I saw the suspect for the first time. I went up to him and I said to him, ‘I’m Aksel’s mother’. He just looked at me and just left. He could have said, ‘I’m sorry,’ ” she said. 

“I don’t want to criticise the SA justice system, it is not my place. I’m sure they are doing everything they can. I just would like the police to get more resources, but the same thing is also happening in Sweden.” DM

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