Arjun Yadav was on the highway in Rae Bareli Sunday afternoon when the car the Unnao rape victim was travelling in collided with a truck, killing her two aunts and critically injuring her and her lawyer.
“The truck driver was driving in the wrong direction and at high speed. After the accident, the driver and the cleaner of the truck fled from the spot leaving the vehicle behind,” Yadav, who runs a shop at Pore Dauli crossing where the incident took place, told The Indian Express.
Other shop owners who claimed to have witnessed the collision recalled that it was raining heavily at the time and they all saw a truck speeding in the wrong direction. “There is a curve at Pore Dauli crossing, the truck driver was on the wrong side of the road. Suddenly, he made a turn to move to the other side of the road and the car, coming from the opposite direction, rammed into the side of the truck,” said Ramesh Chandra Yadav, who also runs a shop at the crossing.
“The truck dragged the car for around 10 meters and stopped. Before we could reach the spot, the truck driver and cleaner exited the vehicle and ran into the fields. Everyone was busy trying to rescue the people in the car so no one chased the driver and cleaner,” he said.
Explained | Twists & turns in Unnao story
Another shopkeeper then called police, which arrived around 15 minutes later and rushed the victims to the district hospital for treatment. While one of the woman’s aunts was declared dead at the district hospital in Rae Bareli, the other three were referred to Lucknow, where another aunt died during treatment.
Gaya Prasad (54), who also claimed to have witnessed the incident, told The Indian Express that the truck driver needed to be questioned. “I also used to drive a truck before opening this shop but this was not the way to drive a heavy vehicle on road. The fact that one number plate was blacked out also needs to be probed,” he said. “The police should investigate if there is any conspiracy behind it,” said Arjun Yadav.
And as the Centre Tuesday handed over to the probe into the road accident to the CBI, the truck driver Ashish Pal, cleaner Mohan and truck owner Debendra Kishore are still in police custody. ADG Lucknow Zone, Rajeev Krishna said, “Police are looking into all angles and verifying all allegations.”
Around 80 km from the accident spot, the family of the truck driver Ashish Pal (24) claimed he is innocent. “There is no conspiracy. We are also demanding a CBI investigation,” said Ashish’s mother Raj Rani, a resident of Othi village in Fatehpur district. “Had my son been involved in any wrong activities, we wouldn’t have been living in a house built of mud. We even don’t have a television or a fridge in the house.”
Pal, who studied until Class 8, has been driving trucks for the last four years. His two older brothers Pankaj and Sunil are also truck drivers. “Ashish was an expert in driving trucks. We believe Sunday’s accident occurred due to the car driver’s fault,” said Pankaj, adding that the truck’s owner Debendra Kishore is their distant relative.
Debendra’s older brother Nand Kishor Pal said, “My brother had purchased the truck last year under finance from a company in Kanpur. Because of a financial crisis, Debendra failed to pay the last four instalments.”
“Fearing his truck would be re-possessed, my brother got one number plate blacked out. There is no other reason behind it,” said Nand Kishore, who is presently Fatehpur’s district secretary of the Pragatisheel Samajwadi Party (PSM).
“Before joining PSM, I was with Samajwadi Party. I was Fatehpur district secretary of the SP in 2003 and later rose to member of Samajwadi Party state committee member in 2005.”
Nand Kishore denied any links to MLA Kuldeep Singh Sengar, who is accused of raping the woman. “No one in my family has ever met Sengar. My brother is innocent and there is no criminal conspiracy behind the accident. The cleaner Mohan has been staying with us for the last six years,” he said.