Lukas Abdala, 72, had only worked for two days when he sat behind the wheel of the bus that crashed on Wednesday, killing 56 people.
Mago village in Vihiga County, where Mr Abdala came from, was still in shock yesterday as residents tried to come to terms with news of the crash at Fort Ternan, Kericho County.
The killer bus christened ‘Home Boyz’ is owned by Western Cross Express Company and was said to have been carrying 71 passengers on the day it crashed, against a capacity of 62.
At the home of the man who is said to be the father of 25 children, residents milled around as others conversed in low tones.
Relatives said Abdala had earlier worked for Matunda Bus Company and resigned three days before getting a job with Western Cross Express.
They said Abdala had worked as a driver for nearly 50 years and had never been involved in an accident.
Johnston Chogo, Abdala’s cousin, said they learnt of the accident through the radio but did not imagine their relative could have perished alongside his passengers.
Mr Chogo said they received reports that the bus driver had jumped out of the moving vehicle after losing control, adding at first they believed he was in the hospital nursing injuries.
He said at around 1pm on Wednesday, they received a call from a relative who told them Abdala had been found at Kericho Teaching and Referral Hospital.
Those who knew Abdala said he never drank and was a man of few words.
“He was social and welcoming. When his brothers died, he took over the responsibility of taking care of those children as if they were his own,” said Chogo.
“This is a bad omen because Abdala was our breadwinner. We even don’t have money to cater for the mortuary expenses and can only hope well-wishers will help us.”
Chogo said Abdala had 25 children - three sons and 22 daughters.
“He married several women and at the time of his death he was living in Kisumu with his last wife.”
He had a child in Form Four, another in Form Three, and one at Sigalagala National Polytechnic.
According to Chogo, Abdala had left for Tanzania when he was only 19 years, after his father’s death. A good Samaritan paid for him to attend driving school.
Abdala remained in Tanzania until he was 25, when he returned to Kenya and got a job with Kenya Pipeline Company as a driver.
He had also worked for at least four other bus companies.
Alice Mboka, a niece, told The Standard that when her father died 15 years ago, Abdala took over the care of her family.
“Now I am back at home because I don’t have school fees. I was in Form Three but now that my guardian is dead, my ambitions of becoming a medical doctor have come to a halt,” said Ms Mboka.
At the Machakos Country Bus Station in Nairobi where he worked, those who knew him described him as a disciplined driver.
Francis Mwangi, a driver with Eldoret Bus Services, claimed the ill-fated bus had faulty brakes and that Abdala was not meant to be behind the wheel on that day.
“Hiyo gari haikuwa na lining. Ilikuwa imekwisha kabisa (the vehicle did not have brake linings, they were completely worn out),” said Mr Mwangi.
He further alleged that the scheduled driver had refused to drive the bus in that condition so the operators had to look for another driver.
“Dereva alikataa hawezi endesha hiyo basi hadi ibadilishiwe lining. Ndio huyu dereva mwengine akaletwa kama mtu wa squadi (the driver declined to drive the bus until the brake linings were changed so they decided to bring on a temporary driver).”
Mwangi however vouched for Abdala, whom he fondly referred to as “Omwami”, describing him as a careful driver for the more than 15 years he had known him.
“He was disciplined. I never saw him drinking alcohol, getting drunk or using drugs. He had worked for several years with different bus companies and also plied the Nairobi-Mombasa route for two years.”
According to the family, Abdala had been fighting a court battle to stop his land from being grabbed.
“We don’t know who to turn to after his death,” said Elizabeth Khalamba, his sister-in-law.
Ms Khalamba said Abdala also paid school fees for three nephews, adding that he had also promised to put up a house for her and her children because the one they were living in was leaking and could cave in at any time.
A neighbour, Johnstone Manyonyi, narrated how Abdala confided in him last Sunday that he was busy looking for money for the court case.
“He told me the case had reached a critical stage that required money to pay the advocate representing him in the matter,” said Mr Manyonyi.
He said Abdala had plans to sub-divide the land once the case was over and he had the title deed. [Nathan Ochunge, Felix Odhiambo, Farrel Ogolla]