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Investigation continues into two cousins arrested after deadly carnival crash
The two occupants of the car that ploughed into a large crowd of carnival revellers in Strépy-Bracquegnies on Sunday, killing six and injuring dozens, were both charged on Monday evening.
The driver Paolo F was charged with manslaughter, while the passenger, his cousin Nino F, was charged with failure to assist a person in danger. Only Paolo F was placed under warrant of arrest, according to his lawyer after a long interrogation by the investigating judge, reports RTBF. The passenger has been released on conditions.
Paolo and Nino F are cousins, born respectively in 1998 and 1990, both from La Louvière. Paolo F was allegedly driving the car when it drove at high speed into the group of carnival participants at dawn.
Police arrested the pair a few hundred metres from the scene shortly after the accident. The black BMW car belonging to Paolo is undergoing tests, including its electronic data and its automatic braking system.
According to a video posted on the personal social media page of Paolo, they were returning from a local nightclub. Just before 5.00, a video was taken by the driver, showing him driving over the speed limit in the streets of La Louvière. His social media profiles reveal he was a fan of sports cars.
Paolo F was known to police, having lost his driving licence in 2017 before passing reintegration driving exams. The Mons deputy prosecutor Damien Verheyen stated that neither of them had a criminal history. "But one of the two has a history of driving. I do not know the exact nature and I am not able to say whether it was the passenger or the driver", he pointed out.
Although a murder investigation is currently underway, the charges could be recategorised as manslaughter, depending on the results of blood tests one of them underwent for drugs and alcohol.
The possibility of the crash being a terrorist track has been ruled out for the moment. “Searches were carried out at the homes of the two suspects and no element relating to any radicalisation or extremism was discovered”, said Verheyen.
Speaking to RTL on Monday morning, Mons prosecutor Ignacio de la Serna said it was known that "the speed was very high… We see it on the surveillance cameras”. If it proved to be murder, "the perpetrators risk heavy penalties", but we have "no real explanation for their acts for the moment", he said.
National trauma says mayor
The mayor of Strépy-Bracquegnies Jacques Gobert was all dressed up in his colourful carnival costume, preparing for his first outing as a Gilles, when a speeding car transformed a convivial procession into a war scene.
Speaking on RTBF the following day, he testified to the major emotional shock for the town and a region that has celebrated this folklore tradition for hundreds of years.
"It's a trauma. First for the victims and the people present on the site at the time of the accident. But this trauma has taken on an incredible amplitude. We can measure it at the national level now," he said.
Gobert took the decision on Sunday to stop the carnival of Strépy-Bracquegnies, but the region’s other celebrations will be maintained this weekend. After contacting the various folk groups in the region, he said, "there’s a desire for solidarity, empathy". But the various carnivals would include moments of reflection.
Sunday morning’s drama occurred during the traditional ‘pick-up’ of the Gilles. The costumed brotherhood pass from house to house in the company of family and friends before heading in a procession to the town centre.
During the main festivities, the streets are secured, but not during the early morning gatherings. According to La Louvière’s police chief, this was due to the folklore spirit of carnival.
"Whatever you do, when you have drivers driving at unspeakable speeds, you can put in place all the systems you want, it wouldn't do much good,” he said. “You can never predict the number of people present and the tradition is ancient. It’s local and neighbourhood folklore. It’s even the spirit of folklore.”
Ten people remain in a critical state following the crash, which claimed the lives of six people. Twenty seven other carnival-goers were slightly injured.
Photo (main image): Site where car ran into carnival procession in Strépy-Bracquegnies, near La Louvière © Belga/James Arthur Gekiere
This article was updated on 22 March at 7.45 following new information about the charges against the two men