Minutes before a truck crashed into two mini-buses that stood one behind the other in the breakdown lane on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway at 12.15 am yesterday and caused the death of 29 people, a highway patrolling party had warned the people from the buses against crowding around their vehicles. The accident left 26 people injured.
The IRB said its patrol party had also signalled to the truck driver to stop, but to no avail. Returning to Pune from the wedding ceremony of Eknath Baban Bahule (27) in Ghatkopar in two minibuses, a tyre of one of the buses was deflated near Mauje Dhamani village that is barely a kilometre from the Khalapur toll plaza. The bus halted to repair the damaged tyre, and the second bus also stopped to help out.
As the tyre was being changed, the passengers from the two buses decided to rest between the two vehicles — some sat on the road, some stretched out, and some just stood there. That is when a speeding truck coming from Mumbai rammed into one of mini-buses from behind. The impact of the accident was such that the minibus that the truck had rammed into collided with the bus in front, crushing the people resting between the two vehicles. Among the dead were 15 women and eight children. All the deceased and injured were residents of Laxminagar and Nagpur Chawl in Yerawada, Pune.
Of the six accident victims sent to Sassoon General Hospital in Pune, three were declared brought dead. Two patients, Abhijeet Pawar (25) and Laxmi Kamble (40), were discharged after treatment and one patient, Shashikala Devran Pathare (48), is admitted to ward 8 of the hospital. “She (Pathare) has suffered head injuries and a femur fracture. She is stable now,” Dr D G Kulkarni, medical superintendent of Sassoon, said.
According to eyewitnesses, the IRB patrol officials near the buses first signalled to the truck driver to halt. When the truck driver did not stop, two officials got down from their car and even flashed a torch at the truck driver, but the truck sped on and knocked one of the officials down — he sustained a fracture in the leg — before ramming into the minibus ahead.
The Khalapur police arrested the truck driver, Somnath Dnyandev Phadtare (25) of Sultanwadi in Koregaon, Satara. Additional Director General of Police Vijay Kamble said Phadtare had been driving for hours without a break. Kamble said Phadtare had gone from Kolhapur to Mumbai and was on his return journey when the accident happened. “The patrolling party which tried to stop the truck driver, who was recklessly driving in the reserve lane, said that he was not paying heed to any of their instructions,” Kamble said. “The road is undulating in this lane, and we suspect that Phadtare was almost asleep while driving his vehicle.”
Khalapur’s killer stretch km 19 to km 33
As per records obtained from the Khalapur police station, on an average, about six to seven cases of accidents are registered on the Khalapur stretch — kilometre 19 to kilometre 33 — of the Mumbai-Pune expressway on a monthly basis.
According to the police officials, the accident, which occurred in the wee hours of Monday, was reported from kilometre 30. Of the 31 cases registered since January, most of the accidents have occurred during nighttime. The officials said that most of these accidents occurred when drivers doze off behind the wheels. According to an on-duty policeman, accidents also take place when vehicles develop a technical snag and drivers park them at the side of the road or when drivers stop to answer nature’s call.