The breath test of the passenger in the car that drove into a carnival crowd in Strépy-Bracquegnies, killing six people and injuring many others, came back positive, but that of the driver did not.
The two men from La Louvière, aged 32 and 34, were driving back from a nightclub and had just dropped off another person before the disaster took place early on Sunday morning. Both have been arrested, and will appear before the examining magistrate on Monday afternoon.
"At the moment, the alcohol test is negative for the driver and positive for the passenger, but we are waiting for the results of the blood test before drawing any conclusions," Ignacio de la Serna of the Mons public prosecutor's office told The Brussels Times.
He stated that the blood tests will check if there were substances other than alcohol, like drugs, involved. Depending on the laboratories, de la Serna said the results are expected to be known in the next few days.
One of the men was already known to the courts, as he was stripped of his driving license in 2017 before taking and passing reinstatement exams.
He said in an interview on Bel RTL that an investigation is also ongoing into who exactly was behind the wheel, as it's a possibility they swapped places after the accident before the police arrived.
"After all, the vehicle only stopped 600 metres away, quite a distance from the scene of the first impact. We are doing everything we can to make sure that the person we think was behind the wheel was in fact the driver," he said.
One of the most pressing questions is why the car did not stop, despite being equipped with an automatic braking system.
Murder or manslaughter
Six victims died on the spot, while 10 people were seriously injured and transported to hospitals and another 27 people were minorly injured. One person remains in a coma and his condition raises fears that the death toll might rise to seven.
The disaster is currently classified as murder, but depending on the investigation it might have to be requalified as manslaughter, the King’s Prosecutor said, adding that the homes of the two arrested people have been searched to see if any elements could explain their actions.
It is reportedly not possible to determine whether or not the vehicle had braked at the moment, as dozens of witnesses still need to be questioned and the data from the car and drone images, along with surveillance camera footage, has yet to be analysed. An autopsy of the victims’ bodies will also follow.
The two suspects will be presented before the examining magistrate on Monday afternoon, according to the Public Prosecutor's Office of Mons. The Prosecutor confirmed that “nothing is pointing in the direction of any radicalism or extremism” so far, and any terrorist motives are also still being ruled out.
Witnesses have shared their testimonies on social media. “A car drove into the people, it’s horrific,” someone wrote. “After the shock, more than twenty people lay on the sidewalk and in the street, spread over about thirty metres. We couldn’t do anything.”
Vandaag had een feest moeten zijn, maar het werd een drama.We zijn allemaal intens verbonden met de families en vrienden van de slachtoffers in La Louvière. Een warm woord van dank ook aan alle hulpdiensten op dit moeilijke moment. pic.twitter.com/I1xsmK9ZCM — Alexander De Croo 🇧🇪🇪🇺 (@alexanderdecroo) March 20, 2022
Tweet translation: "Today should have been a celebration, but it became a tragedy. We are all deeply attached to the families and friends of the victims in La Louvière. A warm word of thanks also to all the emergency services at this difficult time."
King Philippe and Crown Princess Elisabeth arrived on Sunday afternoon in Strépy-Bracquegnies to visit the site of the incident and pay tribute to the victims.
They were accompanied by Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, Minister of the Interior Annelies Verlinden, Walloon Minister-President Elio Di Rupo, and Walloon Health Minister Christie Morreale, among others.
The officials attended a briefing with the emergency services, followed by a meeting with the families of the victims and a minute of silence. “What should have been a holiday after a difficult period has become a day of mourning,” Prime Minister De Croo said. “We support the families and relatives of the victims. We also want to thank the emergency services, who have done everything possible,” he said.
Le Roi et la Princesse Elisabeth se rendent à #StrépyBracquegnies, où une voiture a percuté des carnavaliers ce matin. Ils y rencontrent les services de secours et les remercient pour leur aide. Ils expriment également leur sympathie aux familles et aux proches des victimes. pic.twitter.com/yaYtCm740g— Belgian Royal Palace (@MonarchieBe) March 20, 2022
Tweet translation: "The King and Princess Elisabeth visit Strépy-Bracquegnies, where a car hit carnival-goers this morning. They met the emergency services and thanked them for their help. They also express their sympathy to the families and friends of the victims."