The Kenya's National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) was under fire Tuesday evening after more than 40 people were killed in road accidents within 24 hours, 16 of them at the notorious Sachangwan blackspot on the Nakuru-Eldoret highway, about 200km west of Nairobi on Tuesday morning.
Nineteen others had died in a multiple-car accident in the western Bungoma County on Monday, while four lost their lives in Machakos County in the outskirts of Nairobi on the same day.
The horrific Tuesday accident on the Sachang’wan-Salgaa stretch brought to 40 the number of lives lost on the killer 15-kilometre stretch in the last 42 days. More than 64 survivors were rushed to various hospitals.
It happened right under the noses of an NTSA crew which, witnesses said, was chasing after a truck ferrying logs from Congo towards Nakuru 15 minutes to noon.
But the authority’s director-general, Mr Francis Meja, denied the claim, saying their vehicle was parked 500 metres away from the accident spot.
Mr Meja said his officers, who were doing patrols on the Salgaa-Sachang’wan stretch, only spotted the truck speeding past them and opted to follow it after by-standers raised the alarm.
“It is then that the team dispatched the driver with one officer to warn motorists to clear the way. We had our strobe lights and sirens on,” said Mr Meja. “Unfortunately, the driver (of the truck) could not negotiate a corner, and thus rammed oncoming vehicles.”
A Great Rift Valley shuttle driver, Mr Ayub Kinyanjui, who survived the accident, said he saw an NTSA vehicle chasing the trailer before the accident occurred.
“The driver appeared to engage the brakes but the truck swerved and hit the Modern Coast bus,” Mr Kinyanjui told the Nation at the scene.
But the assistant county commissioner for Sachang’wan, Mr Peter Mutiso, said the NTSA vehicle was trying to clear the road after it noticed the trailer had developed a mechanical problem.
“The NTSA surveillance vehicle was in front of the truck and was leading it for about 500 metres from the scene of the accident as it tried to clear the way for other motorists,” he said, his statement contradicting the explanation by Mr Meja.
Nakuru county police commander Hassan Barua said investigations would establish if the claims against the NTSA crew were true.
The brakes of the truck are suspected to have failed after it hit bumps as it descended the tricky stretch. It veered off its lane, ramming a Modern Coast bus headed in the Eldoret direction and killing several passengers.
The impact triggered a chain reaction involving several other vehicles, reducing some to shells. A second truck that was ferrying salt, three passenger shuttles, six private vehicles and a pick-up truck were involved in the pile-up.
The Nation team counted at least 15 bodies at the scene of the accident. Rift Valley traffic enforcement officer Ziro Arome said they were all taken to Molo Sub-County Hospital mortuary. A ten-year-old boy succumbed to injuries on arrival at the Nakuru Level Five Hospital, bringing the toll to 16.
No word, other than “horrific”, could describe the scene, with dismembered bodies strewn all over the road. More bodies were trapped in the vehicles stretching about a kilometre. Various teams, including the Kenya Red Cross, St John’s Ambulance, the county government, and Mediheal Hospital, carried out a combined rescue and retrieval effort.
Mr David Njenga, a businessman who was travelling from Nakuru to Kampala on the Modern Coast bus, said he was sitting at the front seat next to the driver when he saw the truck bearing down on them.
It rammed the bus from the right side, tearing passengers off the bus as it swept other vehicles behind it. The bus conductor was among the dead.
The crash happened just three days after another accident at Kamara on the deadly stretch claimed the lives of seven people, among them five local artistes.
In the past two months alone more than five grisly accidents have happened along the Ngata-Kamara stretch, which covers Ngata, Sobea, Migaa, Salgaa, Sachang’wan, Total, Mau Summit and Kamara.
Energy Cabinet Secretary Charles Keter, speaking at the scene, said the carnage was a sad affair. “We pray for the families of the departed and ask all road users to exercise extreme caution and follow traffic laws to avoid further loss of lives,” he said.
Just hours earlier, in Bungoma, 19 people had perished after several vehicles piled onto a crash involving a matatu and a stalled tractor at Kamukuywa Bridge.
Bungoma North police boss Eliud Okello said 14 people had died on the spot, while Webuye Sub-County Hospital superintendent, Dr Wambasi Mutoro, clarified that five more died while undergoing treatment at the facility.
President Uhuru Kenyatta directed the Kenya Police Service to take stern action against motorists flouting traffic rules, especially during this festive season.
The same Monday evening four people died and two others sustained serious injuries when the matatu they were travelling in had a tyre burst and veered off the road at Kwa Makaa trading centre on the busy Nairobi-Garissa highway in Yatta sub-county.
Reporting by Caroline Wafula, Joseph Openda, Magdalene Wanja, Titus Oteba, Gastone Valusi, Reitz Mureithi, Peter Mburu, and Linet Amuli