The family of Reshall Jimmy who burnt to death in his Ford Kuga in December 2015 was shocked when a meeting during which they expected to find closure, turned into what they consider a betrayal of their trust.
Ford SA CEO Jeff Nemeth during the meeting offered Jimmy’s sister Renisha and mother Polly a new Ford vehicle of their choice, a contribution to a charity of their choice and payment of the damages relating to Reshall’s burn-out vehicle as settlement of the matter.
Nemeth also told them that new evidence indicates that Reshall died of a gunshot wound in his head, an emotional Renisha told Moneyweb on Monday.
Ford has long maintained that Jimmy’s death was unrelated to the more than 50 Ford Kugas that have spontaneously ignited and led to the recall of 4 556 Ford Kuga 1.6-litre vehicles. Ford only did the recall in January this year under pressure from the National Consumer Commission.
The corporation has been widely criticised for its slow response to the vehicle fires and seemingly unsympathetic attitude to victims.
Moneyweb contacted Ford to confirm Renisha’s version of the meeting with Nemeth. The company responded: “Given the sensitive and unique circumstances of the case relating to the death of Mr Reshall Jimmy, and the possibility of ongoing legal proceedings, we have nothing further to add on this matter at this time.”
According to Renisha, the family contacted Nemeth about two months ago to ask what will happen to their matter once Nemeth leaves South Africa. Ford recently announced that Nemeth will take up a new position at Ford USA as part of his planned return to the US. The family has been liaising directly with Nemeth in the months since Reshall’s death.
She says over a period of almost two months she has had extensive contact with Nemeth via text messages and telephone calls. He asked to meet the family without involving legal representatives and asked Renisha not to speak to the media about the meeting.
According to Renisha, Nemeth said the whole matter has had a huge impact on him and his family and promised to bring the Jimmy family closure during the meeting.
On the insistence of the family attorney Rod Montano, Nemeth gave the assurance that he was mandated by the Ford head office in Detroit to settle the matter, Renisha told Moneyweb.
She said he insisted that her mother, who is battling to deal with Reshall’s death, be present during the meeting and asked if archbishop Thabo Makgoba, archbishop of Cape Town could attend as mediator. Makgoba is apparently a close friend of Nemeth, she said.
According to Renisha Nemeth emphasised the role of religion in his life and that of the “Ford family”.
Moneyweb approached Makgoba for comment. He responded: “I was present in my pastoral role and such would not be apt to share the confessional in public. The family and Jeff are better placed. Hope you understand my pastoral obligations.”
The Jimmy family are members of the Hindu faith, but agreed to Makgoba’s presence “because I trusted Nemeth and thought he wanted to redeem himself”, Renisha says.
She says Makgoba opened the meeting with a prayer and asked if she or her mother wanted an opportunity for a prayer in their faith. They denied.
After a discussion Nemeth made the offer, including a Ford vehicle of their choice. She and her mother were shocked at being offered a Ford after their family member died in one. She considered it insensitive and told Nemeth neither she nor any member of her family wanted to put their foot in a Ford ever again.
Nemeth then made the shocking allegation that Ford recently got new evidence about a policeman on the scene who looked through the vehicle window and saw Reshall had a bullet wound to his head, Renisha said.
This shocked their mother to the extreme.
Nemeth told Renisha he needs a few pieces of information from her and she should “help him to help me”.
They parted ways without the family having found closure or having settled with Ford.
Ford subsequently sent a long list of documents it needs from the family, including videos of Reshall’s last 48 hours, receipts, credit card statements and cell phone records relating to his last 48 hours, his medical records for the last 2 years before his death and permission for Ford to interview Reshall’s friends, family members and business associates about his background and activities before his death.
Ford states: “We would reserve the right to add to this list as our investigation continues.”
Renisha says she feels betrayed by Nemeth. “How could he have been able to close the matter if they now want to start investigating and how long is this going to continue?”
She says the autopsy report has ruled out any shooting. In an effort to convince her mother that her son had not been shot, they had to share the gruesome content of the report with her, which has traumatised her further.
The family has now given Ford an ultimatum to present a proper settlement proposal by Monday night or face litigation.
According to Trevor Hatting, spokesperson of the National Consumer Commission, Ford has to submit its responses to an extensive and specified request for information from the Commission as part of its formal enquiry into the safety of the vehicles. The investigators will decide on the basis of the information provided whether it requires further information from Ford or any other parties, he said.