Londiani junction -along the Nakuru-Kericho highway- where 53 people lost their lives, is a known accident blackspot.
According to traffic data, drivers using that section of the road tend to speed, overtake recklessly or do what is known as free-wheeling- an illegal act by long-distance truck drivers - engage the neutral gear to save fuel while hurtling down a slope at high speed.
The vehicle that caused the accident had broken down at the Senate area along Mau Summit-Kericho Highway.
Leonard Korir, a resident of Londiani, said he saw the driver and his conductor working on the trailer approximately three kilometres to the junction.
Locals said they had placed chocks beneath the trailer’s wheels to prevent it from moving.
The chocks were, however, overwhelmed, and the truck started moving while the driver and his assistant were down. According to the locals, the driver boarded the lorry before it could gain momentum and attempted to control it.
“The vehicle had stalled after developing mechanical problems. The driver and his assistant had alighted only for it to overwhelm the chocks placed beneath the wheels and started moving,” said Kirui.
Kirui’s narration was corroborated by another witness Christiano Ogutu who was travelling to Kisumu that evening.
Ogutu had his vehicle hit by the truck damaging its rear and front. He said his journey from Nairobi was smooth and safe until he met the killer truck.
According to Ogutu, the accident happened at around 6.20pm Friday when the centre was full of activities.
“We drove along the Mau Summit-Kericho Highway near a junction to Molo. We saw a trailer, and I told my co-driver the truck ahead of us appeared to have a problem. I questioned why I was driving at a speed of 50 km/h and could not reach it,” he said.
“I lowered our car’s window and could smell burning brakes. I told the person I was in the car the truck brakes had failed and told him we slow down, we will overtake it uphill before the centre,” he added.
Ogutu said the truck driver was almost driving in the middle of the road and that they managed to cross the first bump and were hit before crossing the second bump at the centre.
“I was steady at the steering and didn’t panic, I managed to get hold of the vehicle and parked it by the road. That is what I witnessed,” he said.
Ogutu said the truck cabin was detached from its trailer and were like separate vehicles, and the driver could not control them.
He said most victims were those who traded by the roadside. The driver of the truck, according to the police, is yet to be traced.
Kericho County Police Commander Geoffrey Mayek said they had established the driver was a Rwandese national and the lorry was transporting cement.
He said they are still in the process of establishing the driver’s whereabouts.
“We have successfully retrieved his driving license and obtained his contact details. We will be reaching out to the hospitals where the deceased and survivors of the accident were taken, in an attempt to locate the driver, whether he has died or survived,” Mayek stated.
Residents called on Roads, Transport and Public Works Cabinet Secretary Kipchumba Murkomen to order the erection of speed bumps.
“I will issue a directive after consultation to ensure Kenya National Highways Authority (Kenha) and Kenya Rural Roads Authority (Kura) roads are designed in a manner that will have people conducting business without endangering the lives of others,” Murkomen said.
In 2020 five people perished, and 12 others sustained injuries at the same black- spot after a trailer rammed into five PSVs and a private car that had been flagged down for Covid-19 screening and routine motor vehicle check.
The Mitsubishi trailer was driven from Nakuru, heading towards Kericho’s side.
In 2018 five people died, and seven others were injured after a matatu collided with a truck.
In 2021, five people died in an accident involving a matatu in the Jubat area near the Londiani junction on the Kericho-Nakuru highway.
Data released on Thursday, June 29, by the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) revealed that 2,124 fatalities were recorded between January and June 2023.
The deaths recorded in the first half of 2023 dropped compared to the same period in 2022, where only 2,261 cases were reported.
NTSA reported that more pedestrians led with 729 cases recorded, followed by motorcyclists (561), passengers (403), pillion passengers (196), drivers (189), and pedal cyclists (46).
[Report by Julius Chepkwony, Nikko Tanui and Kiprono Kurgat.]