The story of the Link Bus driver leaves many perplexed
The Minister of Public Works and Transport, General Edward Katumba Wamala, revealed on Friday that the Link Bus company had been given the green light to resume operations.
The company’s 90-person fleet was grounded for nine days after a fatal road accident at Ssebitoli on the Kampala-Fort Portal highway claimed 21 lives.
General Wamala said “preliminary findings from ongoing accident investigations” indicate that the bus (UBA registration number 003S) “with a valid PSV license” did not experience any “mechanical failure prior to the accident”. ‘road accident”. Instead, human error was to blame, with the driver – Paul Hassan Ssempagala – captured on police CCTV camera “moving at… 99 km/h three kilometers before the scene of the crash of the road”.
Besides the speed over the limit (80 km/h), General Wamala said that “CCTV…captured [Ssempagala] drive with one arm while the other [was] holding an object yet to be established.
Ssempagala, 52, and Steven Kaahwa – the turner he had worked with for nearly a decade – were among 20 people who died at the scene after the ill-fated bus cartwheeled through a tea plantation in Ssebitoli.
Affectionately known to some as Big Daddy and other senior driver, Ssempagala had an impeccable record with Link Bus, a company he joined in December 2007. He was previously an employee of the Kalita Bus company.
“Information collected from regular travelers described him as a friendly and trustworthy person, whose bus, commonly labeled No. 2, was most preferred to board from Bundibugyo [District]revealed General Katumba, adding:[He] had no history of alcohol consumption.
In fact, the road accident in Ssebitoli was Ssempagala’s first in a career that spanned two decades. When he joined Link Bus, the first bus handed to him was UAJ registration number 782U. He took the Kampala-Fort Portal road west to Kasese. Link Bus was taking baby steps in this part of the country.
In 2010, the company opened another new route, Kampala-Fort Portal to Bundibugyo. Big Daddy had excelled in his duties so much that he became one of the pioneer drivers on the road. This remained his assigned route until the time of his death.
Link Bus spokesman Tom Best Alinde told The Sunday Monitor that apart from the ill-fated bus, Big Daddy also got behind the wheel of the UAJ 782U, UAK 180N and UAQ 240T buses.
On the fateful day, around 7 a.m., Big Daddy – who had slept in Bundibugyo the previous day – started a familiar 378 kilometer journey from Nyahuka Link Bus Station in Bundibugyo District. His final destination was supposed to be the capital, Kampala.
Nyahuka Link Bus Station Manager Hassan Abudu said Big Daddy was himself the usual cheerful on the fateful day.
“When we saw a Congolese woman coming with seven children to get on the bus, [Big Daddy] said the children were five in number and I told him there were seven,” recalls Mr. Abudu. “We didn’t agree on the number of children and we all got on the bus to confirm the exact number. After a few minutes, the bus left.
The Buhumuliro mini-supermarket in Nyahuka, near the bus station, was where Big Daddy liked to shop. Mr. Buhumuliro, the owner of the supermarket, remembers Big Daddy buying juice that gloomy morning.
During this short trip, Big Daddy stopped at the Ntotoro stage, just a few kilometers from the town of Bundibugyo. Mrs. Mariam Nasubunga boarded the bus with her three children. While she survived the crash, her three children, including a toddler, who was just three months old, perished.
Upon reaching the Fort Portal terminal, Big Daddy made another stopover. During the stopover, he reunited with his longtime friend, Mr. Richard Alba Isingoma. Mr. Isingoma works as a canteen attendant at the bus station. Before that, the duo worked for the company Kalita Bus.
On that fateful day, Big Daddy found Mr. Isingoma tending to his customers in the canteen.
“A few minutes after the bus left, I called him and apologized for not taking care of him and he told me that everything was fine. He told me that he had arrived at Kitumba (five kilometers from the city),” Mr. Isingoma said, adding, “I asked him to bring my luggage which was in Kampala. We ended the conversation with the Islamic greeting, and he scoffed. me because I didn’t say those last words.
Big Daddy was such an affable character. Mr Wilson Mwambale, a driver who uses the Kampala-Fort Portal-Kasese route, said the only complaint passengers would have about Big Daddy was its slow speed on the road.
“So far, I don’t know what caused the road accident. Those who say it was speeding, I doubt it,” he said, adding, “I worked with him for 10 years and knew him as someone who could drive a bus at low speed, but to reach its destination in time”.
Mr Christopher Tusiime, one of the passengers who repeatedly traveled on a bus driven by Big Daddy, described the deceased as a reliable driver.
“Even when he wasn’t there I had to wait for his shift because with him you were sure of safety on the road. He was such a good driver who was so friendly with the passengers and sometimes they would buy him drinks and ate as a thank you,” he said.
Mr Alinde said Big Daddy ‘loved his job so much’ that he ‘wore his company uniform’ even when not at work.
“He was a professional driver with a good clean record,” Mr Alinde added.
All of this makes the preliminary conclusions that General Katumba revealed difficult to digest. The Minister of Equipment and Transport declared “the absence of skid marks [at the accident scene] indicated that the driver had not attempted to brake, which implied speeding at the time of the accident.
General Katumba added: “An eyewitness…attributed the road accident to inappropriate overtaking on a steep bend.”
Big Daddy was laid to rest in his ancestral home at Kasozi Muduma in Mpigi district on May 4.
Mr. Brian Marunda described his father as a person who loved his work and his family. He added that his father had celebrated Eid with his family days before the road accident.
“He came home and was happy. He bought us food. He loved all of his children,” he said.
Big Daddy is survived by nine children and six wives.
Compiled by Alex Ashaba, Irene Kirabo, Longino Muhindo and Joel Kaguta