City family’s long walk to justice ends in sorrow – PHOTOS
The family of Brian Kiambati broke out in screams and wails to express their deep disappointment when senior resident magistrate Elector Rinay read out her ruling on Monday morning.
The relatives, who had faithfully attended all the court sessions, felt that justice had not been served because the man who had been found responsible for the death of their 21-year-old son would be practically walking away.
Mr Job Nyongesa Wangila, a quantity surveyor, was fined Sh350,000 — or serve three years in prison — for among other offences, dangerous driving that caused Brian’s premature death.
The court heard that on the wee hours of Saturday, January 30, 2016, Mr Wangila, in an effort to escape alcoblow, drove on the wrong side of the Thika Superhighway, crashing head-on with an oncoming car, killing one of the passengers instantly. That victim’s name was Brian Kiambati.
In Kenyan law books, there is no option for a fine in a case where dangerous driving leads to the death of a road user. Section 46(1) of Traffic Amendment Act, 2012, only provides for a jail term not exceeding 10 years.
Kiambati’s family has vowed to fight for justice, not just for their son, but to ensure no other parent goes through the anguish they have been through.
Their story of anguish started on Friday, January 29, 2016, when Brian — a first year civil engineering student at the University of Nairobi — announced to his family that he would be attending a friend’s housewarming party.
He asked his parents not to wait for him because he would be returning home late.
“When we spoke at around 5pm, I told him to stop wasting his airtime on me, but he told me he had enough credit to talk for long. He asked me three times; “Dad, are you okay?” Mr Wilson Maina Kiambati recalls.
Brian teased his father, asking him to send him “at least a thousand bob” to keep his pocket with “something” in case he needed to fuel his friend’s car.
Mr Kiambati sent Brian Sh2,000. They agreed to meet the following morning at 9am.
Mrs Lillian Maina recalls the last conversation she had with her son was at around 7pm that Friday.
“Mum,” he said to her, “I have arrived safe on Thika Road. I will see you soon.”
Mama Brian, as she is popularly known, left some food in the microwave for her son to warm when he got home. The rest of the family retired to bed, not knowing that on that night their lives would change forever.
The next day, Mr Kiambati was up early and left for his office. He was leafing through the weekend papers when his daughter, Taryn Muthoni, called him. She asked him if he had seen Brian, to which he said he was still waiting for him.
Muthoni then said Brian’s friend had called her that morning, saying that a car belonging to Kioko, Brian’s friend, had been seen in a police station as a wreck and Kioko was also nowhere to be found.
At once, his paternal instincts kicked in and he sensed all was not well.
Meanwhile, Brian’s mother was making calls to friends and to Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) to inquire about her son’s whereabouts.
The three soon got together in the family car and were on the way to KNH when the mother of Brian’s friend called Mr Maina to break the bad news.
“My wife and daughter were all over crying, we had to get people on the road to assist us,” he recalls.
The family then drove to City Mortuary and right at the entrance of the morgue, at number 236, was Brian Kiambati Maina, lifeless, bloodied and cold. Dead at the age of 21.
“Our 9am meeting had happened. Only it happened in the mortuary,” a distraught Mr Maina says.
What followed was a flurry of activities, preparing to give Brian an honourable send-off.
Shocked friends and family streamed into their home in South B. Brian’s former classmates took to social media and blogs to pay their tributes to the young man who had died so soon. When the family welcomed the Saturday Nation team into Brian’s bedroom, everything was neat in its place.
His sneakers, T-shirts and hoodies were neatly arranged in the wardrobe. His computer was intact on a small study desk near the door.
To honour Brian’s memory, his family has built a glass cabinet above his bed, where they have placed his personal stuff like passport, award-winning essays, his blue and white college jacket, guitar, pictures from his childhood and other artefacts that marked his life milestones.
The bookshelf above the study table tells the story of a young man who loved to read fiction, physics and geography.
“It was like we had another man in the house…Brian would drive me to wherever I wanted, he was also the family cook,” his tearful mother says.
On February 10, 2016, after Brian had been buried, his father finally gathered the courage to walk to Kasarani Police Station to find out exactly what had happened to his son.
What Mr Kiambati found shocked him to the core. He learnt that the police had initially planned to charge Kioko, Brian’s driver, for causing the death of his friend through dangerous driving.
However, a senior police officer had realised that on the night of Brian’s death, a television crew had been carrying an all-night stake-out for a feature story on the effectiveness of alcoblow.
The crew had filmed the accident as it happened, even showing parts of Brian’s dead body on television.
When the police reviewed the video, they found that they had in fact planned to charge the wrong person, so they changed the charge sheet days before Mr Kiambati walked into the police station.
The initial story was that both Brian and Kioko were drunk, but it turned out that Kioko was in fact sober and that Mr Wangila was the one driving on the wrong side of the Thika Superhighway.
“Brian and Kioko had just taken the service lane at GSU when they saw lights from an oncoming car. I am told the last thing he said before the accident was “What is this guy doing!” Mr Maina says.
This television story, aired on February 7, 2016, changed the course of the case. Police began the process of charging Mr Wangila.
“The senior police officer told me this would have been a double tragedy, taking the life of my son, and jailing a young man for a crime he had not committed,” Mr Maina says.
The long and tedious process of charging Mr Wangila began on July 2016 and ended on February 2018, ironically, exactly two years since the death of their son.
TAKEN ITS TOLL
The family has been through more than 12 court of appearances.
The court process has taken its toll on them, both financially and emotionally, with Brian’s younger sister being particularly hard hit.
“I missed class and other school activities because I had to attend the proceedings,” she said.
As the day of the ruling drew closer, the family looked forward to finally having some closure, to see the suspect pay for his actions.
After Mr Maina spoke on behalf of his family on that big day, Mr Wangila’s lawyer, Mr John Khaminwa, took to the floor and pleaded with the magistrate not to jail Mr Wangila because his client was “a 35-year-old man, with a young family and child who is one-and-a-half years old”. He asked the magistrate ought to show leniency.
“I was seated there and wondering, what about my Brian, who was only 21-years-old? This was our only son!” Brian’s mother recalls.
According to the family, the beginning of the judgment sounded very favourable for Brian’s family, with the magistrate clearly articulating Mr Wangila’s offences, which included bearing false witness, lying to the court, driving on the wrong side of the superhighway and causing death by dangerous driving.
There was even a mention that such offences would attract a minimum of 15 years in prison, and then the magistrate ordered Mr Wangila be fined Sh350,000 or be sentenced to three years in prison.
Brian’s family wept and lamented at the seemingly lenient judgment, and are now saying that justice has not been served.
“We are not interested in the money. We want something that will help us begin to heal as a family. We want a judgment so punitive the young man will reflect his actions and know what he did,” Mr Maina says.
The family says they are afraid they might never get the closure they needed to move on with their lives.
“We feel this system has not served us right in judging the young man. Today, it is Brian. Tomorrow, it could be a Steve,” Mr Maina says.