‘Could life be so cheap?’
Johannesburg - When Rene Nel’s husband was killed by a drunk driver, it felt as if she had been given a life sentence.
Nearly two years ago, Louis Nel and his friend were knocked down while jogging.
Louis was killed instantly and his friend was knocked unconscious.
The driver, Gunter Geyer, who also goes by the name Gunter van Rensburg, is the son of National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) acting head Karen van Rensburg, and is a Pretoria rugby player.
Geyer has pleaded guilty to drunk driving and culpable homicide.
But the Nels - who feel as if they haven’t been able to recover from Louis’s death, partly through having to relive the horror at every court date - are preparing for the possibility he will be sentenced to community service.
At the start of the case, the Nels were asked to sign a plea bargain giving Geyer community service and house arrest in exchange for a guilty plea.
Rene said they were told that community service would mean work in a garden twice a week and house arrest at night.
“They told us there weren’t enough police to monitor house arrest properly and all they could do was phone every night to check if he was home.”
Rene and her daughter Paulet believe it is unacceptable that the law allows a drunk driver who has killed someone to get such a light sentence.
“Could life be so cheap?” Paulet asked.
They refused the plea bargain conditions, but Geyer still pleaded guilty and the defence is still asking for community service.
The prosecutor won’t tell the family what sentence he has asked for.
Now Paulet has started a petition calling for minimum jail time for drunk and reckless drivers who kill or seriously injure someone.
The response to the Facebook petition was overwhelming, and Paulet has heard from people who faced a similar trauma as her family.
“It is time to take drunk driving and speeding seriously and impose proper consequences. I’m afraid that a slap on the wrist and a fine is just not adequate for such a serious matter,” Paulet wrote in the petition.
Caro Smit from South Africans Against Drunk Driving said the difference between murder and culpable homicide appears to depend on the publicity involved and whether the case goes to a high court or not.
“But according to the National Road Traffic Act, there is jail time of six to nine years that can be asked for with culpable homicide,” she pointed out.
Geyer’s sentencing is set down for April.