Pune, (IANS) Nine people were killed and two dozen were injured when a rogue bus driver sped through busy streets here Wednesday, crushing motorists, pedestrians and vehicles and leaving Pune in shock.
The half-hour bloodbath 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 traffic controller Ajit Limaye ran behind the bus.
But Mane smashed through the Maharashtra State Road Transport Corp depot’s iron gates and took a swift wrong turn to the right into the oncoming traffic, mowing down a rickshaw and a fruit handcart.
The nightmare had just begun.
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 mayhem 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.
Five of those with multiple injuries were in serious condition, an official told IANS.
“He just went berserk,” Pune Police Commissioner Meera 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.
One man who had witnessed the murderous drive 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.”
“Some policemen fired to puncture the tyres. Two of them were knocked down during the chase,” he added.
As word 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.
Mane was finally arrested near the Nilayam Talkies, thanks to some spirited citizens that included a college student, policemen and staff of the fire brigade.
“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, taking everyone by surprise.
Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar expressed shock over the deaths and announced financial support to the distraught families of those who died or were injured.