Pune: Eight people were crushed to death and 29 injured when a rogue bus driver sped through busy streets here Wednesday, knocking down motorists, pedestrians and vehicles like in a horror movie.
The half-hour mayhem began at 8.15 a.m. when Santosh Mane, 41, used a master key to hijack a bus that had just reached Swargate Depot from Satara and drove on the wrong side of crowded roads at breakneck speed.
The driver of the hijacked bus, Santosh Hendre, and the depot’s traffic controller Ajit Limaye sprinted behind the bus.
But the maniac Mane smashed through the Maharashtra State Road Transport Corp depot’s steel gates and took a swift wrong turn to the right into the oncoming traffic, mowing down a rickshaw and a fruit handcart.
It was the start of a nightmare that shocked Maharashtra.
Dazed witnesses recalled that Mane spared no one and nothing as he drove through Golibar Maidan, near the military cantonment, East Street, Solapur Bazar, back to Golibar Maidan, Swargate and Sarasbaug.
By the time the bloodbath ended, thanks mainly to a group of people who barged into the bus and overpowered the driver, some 30 to 40 vehicles had been crushed and overturned over 25-30 km of road length.
There was blood on roads as the dead and wounded were rushed to hospitals, some screaming away in agony.
The dead included five men and three women, aged between 19 and 46 years. Police had earlier placed the number of dead at nine and the injured at two dozen.
Five of those with multiple injuries were in serious condition, an official told IANS.
‘He just went berserk,’ Pune Police Commissioner Meeran Borwankar said. ‘He went on ramming whatever vehicles were plying on the roads.
‘People on the roads literally threw children away to avoid being crushed. The damage has been tremendous.’
Another police officer called Mane ‘a nutcase’, and added that most of the damaged vehicles were taxis, private cars, two-wheelers and cycles.
Borwankar added that roads at that time of the morning were crowded with school-going children and people going to work.
College student Sharif Ibrahim Kutty who witnessed the murderous run told reporters that he had never seen ‘anything so horrible in my life’.
‘I saw him knocking down a woman, then a man. I ran after the bus. Police were also pursuing him.’
Kutty said he saw two policemen fired at the bus tyres but missed the mark. ‘The bus then ran over the policemen and broke through the police barricade. On this road alone he killed eight people.’
As panic spread, police hurriedly put up barricades to block the killer bus.
Assistant police inspector Pundalik Dhaigude, who followed Mane for nearly 30 minutes, said the driver ‘looked very dangerous’.
‘His face showed stress and aggression. We tried to stop him but he drove at a maddening speed on the wrong side, making it difficult for us to keep pace with him,’ he said.
But Kutty disagreed. He said the driver’s face was devoid of any emotion.
Mane was finally arrested near the Nilayam Talkies, thanks to some spirited citizens as well as policemen.
‘We have no idea why he took charge of the Satara bus,’ Borwankar said.
Mane, who lived in the bus depot, had reported for duty in the morning but was told there were no spare buses. That is when he got into the bus that had come from Satara and zoomed off.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chauhan, Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar and several politicians called on the injured in hospitals and wished them speedy recovery.