At least one eyewitness who saw lawyer Janhavi Gadkar ram her Audi Q3 into an Eeco taxi in the early hours of Tuesday on the Eastern Freeway has told investigators that the high-profile lawyer offered to pay cash and “settle” the matter minutes after the accident in which two people died.
According to key eyewitness Hasan Khan, 42, not long after Gadkar was helped out of her mangled car, she told the people who had gathered on the Freeway: “Jo bhi hoga, main settlement kar doongi, kharcha utha loongi. (Let us settle the matter, I will bear the expenses).” Hasan told The Indian Express that he had recounted this in his statement to the police.
Gadkar, who investigators have said was driving at over 100 kmph until the head-on collision with the taxi at 1.20 am, is in police custody. Her bail plea will be heard on Friday.
Another eyewitness is Hafeez Khan, 48, who was driving his Santro cab on the Freeway and witnessed the accident. Speaking to The Indian Express, he too said Gadkar offered money when he approached her to ask if she was okay. “She said ‘jo bhi paise chahiye le lo, mujhe yahan se jana hai. (Take the money you need, I want to go)’,” said Hafeez.
While investigators recorded 10 witness statements, including eyewitnesses and some staff members at the pub where Gadkar was reported to have been drinking that night, they have not yet recorded Hafeez’s statement. Even a passing ambulance’s driver refused to carry them to hospital, though it was empty,” said Hafeez.
Describing the accident, he said he first saw the Audi drive towards South Mumbai while he was headed in the opposite direction. At this point, she was on the right side of the road. “The car then took a u-turn near the monorail, turning to the other direction but on the same carriageway. She was driving alongside my car, in the direction I was going, but on the wrong side,” Hafeez recalled. The Audi gathered speed, overtook him, missed hitting two vehicles headed to South Mumbai. “I hit the accelerator hard to catch up and warn the driver. I had reached 90 km/hr, but the car was farther ahead. It must have been driving at 120 km/hr,” said Hafeez.
Two kilometres ahead, the Audi hit the Eeco. “She was driving right in the middle of the road. Had she been even towards the left side on the wrong carriageway, the accident would not have happened,” said Hafeez.
While investigators Wednesday said Gadkar drove nearly 11 km on the wrong carriageway, and in fact got on the wrong side at the start of the Freeway in South Mumbai itself, multiple eyewitnesses have said the car took a u-turn at Wadala near the monorail bridge and was then on the wrong side of the road for about 2 km before the accident. The police are now trying to ascertain what section of the Freeway she drove on the wrong side. “She has said she has no memory of what happened after her car entered P D’Mello Road,” said Sangramsing Nishandar, Deputy Commissioner of Police, Zone VI.
Hasan, a manager with TataSky, heard the crash of the cars over the loud music he was listening to while he driving his Maruti Swift towards Chembur, the same direction as Hafeez. As he drove ahead, he saw the accident site and stopped.
“After she was brought out, she stood there, some other person was handling everything on her behalf,” he said.
Hafeez, his son, son-in-law and Hasan helped Nouman, the 16-year-old whose SSC examination success the Saboonwala family was out celebrating before heading back home in the ill-fated taxi, rescue his family members from the crushed vehicle. They said no one came forward to help the bleeding Salim Saboonwala, 58, who later died at Sion Hospital. “The women were screaming from inside for help, but most of the crowd was gathered around the Audi,” Hafeez claimed.
After the Saboonwala family left for hospital in another taxi, Hasan dropped his family home and returned 15 minutes later to find the fire brigade cutting through the taxi to rescue driver Sayed Hussain. He was alive
till the police reached 40 minutes later.
Hamza Mohammed, 17, a friend of Nouman, arrived at Sion Hospital around 2 am. Hamza, who is also a key witness, said the family stayed at the hospital about an hour before deciding to shift to Saifee Hospital. “I stayed back with Nouman’s father. He was very critical, and could not be saved,” Hamza said. Immediately after receiving Nouman’s call, he had left from his Nagpada residence, along with Mustafa Gazyani,
the injured Salma Saboonwala’s fiance.
Gadkar, a vice-president with the legal team at Reliance Industries, reportedly remembers nothing of the events of Tuesday morning after she entered P D’Mello Road, according to the police. The police are now verifying eyewitness accounts that suggest Gadkar also visited The Irish House pub in Fort after leaving the Marine Plaza Hotel. “We have got reports that she was sighted there. We are verifying those claims,” said Nishandar.
He added that Gadkar was also involved in a collision with a motorbike in Govandi last week. However, the two men riding on the vehicle were not badly hurt and did not file a complaint against her. “She was not drunk at that time and no one was hurt in the incident,” Nishandar said.
(with inputs from Srinath Rao)