Widower testifies how newly-wed wife was killed by intoxicated driver in Xemxija

Widower describes the moment his wife was run over and flung 20m by a speeding car, whose driver was under the influence of cocaine and alcohol

A man has given a moving account of witnessing his newly-wedded wife die at the hands of a driver who was driving under the influence of alcohol and cocaine, at Xemxija in 2021, as a man from Mellieħa was finally charged in connection with the incident. 

43-year-old Wayne Buttigieg, who told the court that he was unemployed, was charged by summons before Magistrate Astrid May Grima today, accused of involuntary homicide in connection with the tragic road fatality.

Rania Boughattas died at the scene, having been dragged 20 metres under Buttigieg’s Mercedes C350.

Witnesses told the court that the driver had been under the influence of cocaine and alcohol at the time, and had also collided with several other vehicles, ending up in the opposite lane.

Buttigieg pleaded not guilty to causing Boughattas’ death through dangerous, reckless and negligent driving. He is also accused of driving under the influence of alcohol, speeding, driving in the wrong lane and causing damage to two cars and a wall.

The first witness to testify was the victim’s widower, Nadil Ben Soltana, who returned to Malta from Belgium to give the court his account of the incident.

Ben Soltana and Boughattas had travelled to Malta for a holiday, shortly after their wedding. Boughattas was killed on what should have been the couple’s last day on the island.

At times fighting back tears, Ben Soltana told the court that they had spent their last day driving around the island in a rental car. They had been staying at an apartment in St. Paul’s Bay, just a few metres away from the scene of the accident, he said. 

The man recalled parking near the sea, close to the apartment. He had alighted from the vehicle and crossed the road at a nearby zebra crossing, but his wife had taken a bit longer to emerge, as she had been fiddling with her handbag. 

He had stopped right before crossing, having seen a Mercedes approaching at high speed. At that point he did not know where his wife was, he said. 

“I stopped to let the car pass, because it seemed to be speeding up. Then I saw my wife crossing from the other side. Suddenly I heard a loud bang…I didn’t know what to do,” said the witness, sobbing quietly.

The car had missed Ben Soltana by a few centimetres, he said, adding that the driver had not braked at all, although he could have had he wanted to.

Buttigieg’s car had been going so fast that before the witness could turn his head, it had already crashed into “at least 3” cars, he said.

Asked by the court whether he had seen the driver, he said he had not. Ben Soltana had been the first person to see his wife on the ground, as the driver did not step out of the car immediately, he added.

Bystanders had attempted to give first aid to the woman, he said, recalling a man walking up to his wife and putting his finger on her neck to check her pulse.

He pointed out the accused as being that man, describing him as having been “strangely calm.”

Police Inspector George Frendo also testified, having been dispatched to the scene of the incident, arriving a few minutes later.

The victim was already deceased at that time, he recalled, her death having been certified by a doctor accompanying the ambulance crew.

The woman’s husband and two young daughters had also been taken to hospital, where they were treated for very slight injuries. The husband, however, had been found to be suffering from profound shock and was not in a position to answer questions at that point. He was questioned at a later date.

Buttigieg had told the police that he had swerved to avoid a man crossing the road, only to find the victim in the other lane. The woman had been dragged under the car for several metres, he said.

Answering a question from the magistrate, the inspector said that blood and urine samples taken from the accused showed that he had consumed alcohol and cocaine.

The case continues in March.

Inspector Matthew Galea is prosecuting. Lawyer Josette Sultana is defence counsel. 

Lawyers Franco Debono and Francesca Zarb are representing Ben Soltana as parte civile