Families mourn as death toll in Nithi accident rises to 34

Nithi-River bus accident victims. From left: Paul Muruthi Kamau (Driver), Ken Mwenda, David Marangu, George Muchori Macharia and Said Mugwika. (Bottom row from left) Agnes Kawira and Nicholas Ariyo, Jane Karambu, Simon Nzighe (conductor), Mugambi Muchiri. On the right is Dr Mary Mwandisha.

Photo credit: Pool

Lovebirds Nicholas Ariyo and Agnes Kawira left Mombasa on Friday to visit her parents in Meru for bride price negotiations, only for their plans to end on Sunday evening at the Nithi River Bridge in the Modern Coast bus accident.

The couple was accompanied by Mr Ariyo’s father James Otieno and his elder brother Mr John Ochieng. While Kawira died on the spot, Mr Ariyo is missing. Mr Otieno and Mr Ochieng are admitted to the Chuka County Referral Hospital.

“They met several months ago and fell in love and they were planning to get married soon so they started to solemnise their relationship,” said Mr Joshua Oloo, a relative. The family is from Migori and lived in Magongo, Mombasa.

The dead were taken to Chogoria, while survivors were taken to Chuka for treatment.

The Modern Coast accident bus

The Modern Coast bus which plunged 40 metres down the Nithi bridge in Tharaka Nithi County, killing 34 people.

Photo credit: Alex Njeru | Nation Media Group

Mr Oloo said a doctor at PCEA Chogoria Hospital had called the family, claiming that he had got the contact from Mr Ariyo, who was admitted to Ward Two, but when they arrived there, they did not find him.

In Kilifi, another family is mourning the death of their daughter, Dr Mary Mwandisha. The doctor, 28, was on her way to Taita-Taveta to collect her appointment letter after a successful interview. She had worked for three months at Lifetime Hospital in Meru.

Her mother, Ms Agelina Mwandisha, said death had robbed her of her only daughter.

“I spoke to my daughter on Sunday around 4pm and she informed me that she was travelling to Voi from Meru,” Ms Mwandisha said at her Kwa Mike Estate residence in the outskirts of Kilifi town.

Mombasa-bound Modern Coast bus

The Mombasa-bound Modern Coast bus was said to have been speeding and its brakes could have failed when it cashed at the Nithi bridge, witnesses said.

Photo credit: Alex Njeru | Nation Media Group

“She told me as usual she would send a text message on arrival in Voi. She had estimated she would be there at around 2am or 3am. The text is yet to come,” the tearful mother said yesterday.

Ken Mwenda, an IT expert working in Mombasa, travelled to Meru last Wednesday to attend a relative’s burial. On Saturday, after the ceremony, he told his best friend, Mr Rodgers Kamanja, that he was yearning to return to the coast to see his family. That was the last time Mr Kamanja heard from his friend. On Sunday, Mwenda posted on Facebook comments suggesting he was about to make an important decision in his life.

“The first step to getting anywhere is deciding that you are not willing to continue staying where you are. In some instances, moving forward requires the courage to take some steps back in order to find alternative ways around the barrier,” read part of his post. That was his last post alive.

“It’s very shocking and his wife is devastated. We are trying to come to terms with reality but it’s hard,” Mr Kamanja told the Nation on phone yesterday.

Mwenda was among 34 passengers who died in a grisly road accident at the notorious Nithi bridge on the Meru-Nairobi highway in Tharaka-Nithi County.

The driver of the ill-fated bus, Paul Mureithi, 56, who had worked with transport company since 2018, according to his wife, Beatrice Wakuthie, also died. She said she last spoke to her husband on Friday when they had a lengthy phone conversation. He also spoke with his daughters aged 16 and 12.

On reaching the bridge at 6.30pm, witnesses say the driver appeared to lose control of the bus and it hurtled down the steep slope at top speed before plunging 40 metres into the river. Witnesses also reported seeing the roof of the bus torn off when it hit the road’s guard rails, and that it rolled several times down the rocky ground.

Nithi River Bridge Accident modern coast

People mill around the area where the bus plunged into River Nithi on July 25, 2022. 

Photo credit: Alex Njeru | Nation Media Group

“It first hit the rail and swerved back to the road as the driver tried to control it. Suddenly, I saw it hit the rails and drop down to the river,” said Mr Martin Murimi, a resident.

Chuka police base commander Philip Ekakolo said preliminary investigations point at brake failure.

“Twenty passengers, including the driver and conductor, died on the spot while the rest died as they were receiving treatment at Chuka County Referral Hospital,” said Mr Ekakolo. According to the police, 18 men, 14 women and two girls died in the crash.

Eleven passengers survived and were receiving treatment at Chuka referral hospital, said Eastern Regional Commissioner Evans Achoki.

Efforts to speak to the survivors were futile as the hospital management kept the media from accessing the wards.

 The family of Jane Karambu Mwithimbu was still mourning her elder brother Edward Mwithimbu when tragedy struck again. Karambu, who lived in Mombasa, had travelled to Meru for the burial of her brother.

Nithi Bridge black spot

A sign post warning motorists of the Nithi Bridge black spot.

Photo credit: Alex Njeru | Nation Media Group

When the Nation visited the family home at Miugune village in Buuri, relatives were yet to come to terms with the death.

“We are shell shocked. We had just laid to rest our uncle on Friday. I saw the news of the accident on TV yesterday evening but I did not imagine that my aunt was in that bus. It is shocking,” Mr Samson Muguna, her nephew, said.

He said the family and neighbours were still strained financially by the earlier burial.

“The family will appreciate any support from the government. The burden is big emotionally and financially,” he said.

Mr Achoki said the search for bodies was still on, while authorities are seeking to establish if there could be other injured passengers taken to other health facilities. He said the process of tracing and informing families of the dead would be done in conjunction with the Red Cross and the county security team.

Tharaka-Nithi County Commissioner Nobert Komora said 17 bodies were taken to Chogoria while all the injured were rushed to Chuka hospital.

He, however, noted that they could not conclusively account for all the passengers until the search in the water and under the bus wreckage was concluded.

Shocked relatives of the victims thronged both Chuka and Chogoria hospitals, seeking to know the fate of their loved ones.

Addressing journalists at his office on yesterday, Meru Governor Kiraitu Murungi condoled with the bereaved. He said the county government would offer support to the families in burial arrangements and paying bills for those admitted to hospital.

In his 2017 campaign manifesto, Tharaka-Nithi Governor Muthomi Njuki promised to speed up the re-engineering of the bridge within his first 100 days in office. However, nothing is yet to happen.

Additional reporting by David Muchui and Maureen Ongala