Paqpaqli incident victims take the stand in case against event organisers

The compilation of evidence against the 13 people charged in connection with the ill-fated car show continued this afternoon

The scene of the incident after a supercar crashed into a crowd of onlookers • Photo by MaltaToday reader Claire Caruana
The scene of the incident after a supercar crashed into a crowd of onlookers • Photo by MaltaToday reader Claire Caruana

A court has heard a survivor give an intense account of the incident that marred the Paqpaqli ghall-Istrina car show in October 2015.

Gustav Cauchi, one of the spectators who were injured when a Porsche Spyder careened into bystanders took the stand in the compilation of evidence against the 13 people charged in connection with the ill-fated car show.

The 13-member core organising committee for Paqpaqli ghall- Istrina, Paul Bailey, Tonio Darmanin, Tonio Cini, Agostino Degiorgio, Jonathan Tonna, Kevin Perry, Melvin Haber, Ian Keith Cilia Pisani, Jonathan Bruno, Julian Mannara, Christopher Sultana, David Bugeja and Brian Gatt are accused of involuntarily causing grievous bodily harm, as well damage to various motor vehicles, through imprudence, carelessness and non-observance of regulations.

Cauchi, a senior chemical analyst, recalled in court today how his visit to the annual car show ended with him suffering the life-threatening injuries and an ongoing ordeal, after Paul Bailey’s supercar skidded into a crowd of spectators.

The sports cars enthusiast told the court how after taking photos of the static display, he had been making his way back along the track, stopping halfway to chat with a friend, when the accident took place.

He had just photographed Bailey’s Porsche when he heard squealing brakes and tyres screeching, spotting as he turned, the car’s rear right wheel touch the grass on the side of the track.

Sensing that the driver was about to lose control, Cauchi had instinctively tried to run in the opposite direction, but had only made a few steps when the Porsche caught up with him and ran him over, before coming to rest a short distance away.

He felt a sudden burst of pain on his right side and saw that his left leg was badly broken. His arms were numb, the witness explained, pausing for a few moments to regain his composure.

He was rushed to Mater Dei hospital where he was found to be in a critical condition, with multiple leg fractures, lacerations on his kidney and liver and abrasions on his back from being dragged along the ground by the Porsche.

Cauchi’s recovery was slow, and it was three months before he could walk again without crutches, he said, a metal pin having been surgically implanted along his ankle to his knee.

Another victim, Charlot Farrugia, also gave his testimony today. He told magistrate Aaron Bugeja how he had been viewing the static display for around 10 minutes when he heard the screeching of brakes.  He had just glimpsed the Porsche heading in his direction when it knocked him out.

Farrugia, a heavy vehicle driver, regained consciousness in hospital where he discovered that his left foot had been fractured. Although he returned to work some three months later, the man said he could no longer go to the gym or take a daily jog as a result of the injury he suffered.

Earlier on in this morning’s sitting, Major John Borg, a former aide de camps, gave detailed account of the planning and organization, which went into the Paqpaqli ghall-Istrina event between 2010 and 2013, under the presidency of George Abela.

He confirmed what had already been said in open court last Thursday by President Emeritus Abela himself, that the core organizing committee used to meet regularly at San Anton, on a fortnightly basis between mid-August and the date of the event.

Maj. Borg explained how tasks were allocated to different members according to their area of specialization and how details regarding different concerns of various stakeholders used to be discussed at such meetings.

Safety had always been part of the agenda, he said, adding that the committee would even hold an on-site inspection exercise at Hal Far before the actual event.

Besides committee meetings, one-on-one discussions were conducted as the need arose, with Committee Chairman, Mark Mallia, acting as overall coordinator added the officer.

Borg told the magistrate that after the end of the Abela Presidency, he had served for some four months as aide de camps to the current president before resuming his post with the AFM.

But before returning to his unit he had recommended, during a meeting with President Coleiro Preca and her team on the MCCF, Mark Mallia, Tonio Darmanin and Duncan Barbaro Sant on the core committee as being essential for the continuation of the annual event.

“I wanted those three players to be roped in,” Mr Borg told the court, concluding that without them there was little hope for the event’s continued success.

Police inspectors Josric Mifsud, Silvio Magro and Hubert Cini are prosecuting.

Lawyers Giannella DeMarco and Stephen Tonna Lowell are counsel to Paul Bailey.

Lawyer Joe Giglio is counsel to Tonio Darmanin. Lawyer Stefano Filletti is counsel to Brian Gatt and Julian Manara.

Lawyer Arthur Azzopardi is defence counsel for Ian Cilia Pisani, Kevin Perry and Chris Sultana. Other members of the Paqpaqli team are being assisted by Dr Michael Sciriha, Dr Raphael Fenech Adami and Dr Albert Zerafa.

Franco Debono, Amadeus Cachia, Roberto Montalto, Michael Grech, Shazoo Ghaznavi, Alessia Zammit Mackeon and Reuben Farrugia are among the lawyers appearing parte civile for the victims.

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