Kerala car crash
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Kerala, a southern Indian state, has been rocked by the deaths of two models who were killed in a car crash early in November, 2021. It was no ordinary car crash. That’s what reports say, quoting events leading up to the crash on November 1. Many unresolved questions remain, shrouding the tragedy in mystery.

Three people died in the crash: Ansi Kabeer, a former Miss Kerala; Anjana Shajan, a runner-up at the Miss Kerala pageant; and Muhammed Ashique, an advertising professional. Abdul Rahman, the driver of the car, escaped with minor injuries. The four were returning at night after a party at a prominent hotel in Kochi.

Some of the events leading up to the crash and subsequent developments have raised suspicions, according to reports. Let us take a look at how the events unfolded.

Kochi car crash_profile
Image Credit: Seyyed de la Llata/Gulf News

The fatal accident

Ansi Kabeer, 25, and Anjana Shajan, 26, were killed when their car crashed on to a tree after hitting a two-wheeler at Chakkaraparambu on the Vyttila-Edappally stretch of the Ernakulam Bypass Road at around 12.30am on November 1. The two models were heading to Thrissur after attending a party in Kochi with two other friends.

Anjana and Ansi, who were in the rear seats, died on the spot, while Muhammed Ashique died of his injuries six days later. Abdul Rahman, who drove the car, survived with minor injuries.

The crucial arrests and bail

The first arrest was on November 8, when Abdul Rahman was taken into police custody. He was held on charges of involuntary manslaughter. Sources say Abdul Rahman was driving under the influence of alcohol.

The family of the victims, unsatisfied with the progress of the case, sought an investigation. They asked why the police hadn’t taken any action against the hotel owner, although he reportedly was found to have destroyed evidence, including the hard disk containing the CCTV footage.

Reports say the police in Palarivattom (local police) were late in recording the driver’s statement. There are allegations that there was a delay in questioning Roy J Vayalat, owner of No 18 Hotel, and recovering the CCTV footage from the hotel, where the party took place before the crash.

The police arrested Vayalat and five of the hotel staff on November 17. The hotel employees have been identified as Melwin, Vishu, Linson, Shijulal and Anil. Vayalat is reported to have admitted that the CCTV hard disk containing the visuals of the party had been destroyed. However, all of them received bail the next day.

The police said Vayalat destroyed the evidence of giving alcohol or drugs to Ansi Kabeer, Anjana Shajan, Mohammad Ashiq and accident survivor Abdul Rahman. They argued that Vayalat gave alcohol or drugs with an ulterior motive during the night party, and liquor was served even after 9pm on October 31 at the hotel in violation of an Excise rule.

The missing hard disk

When the probe team recovered the hard disk of the CCTV footage at the hotel, there were no images of the party. There were no visuals of the hotel’s first and second floors and parking area either.

That raised suspicions of foul play. The staff reportedly replaced the original hard disk with an empty one after a technician sent the procedure to dismantle the hard disk via WhatsApp. The accused told police that the hard disk, containing the CCTV visuals of the party, had been thrown into the water.

The police searched the vicinity of Kannamgattu bridge at Thevara, Kochi, where the hotel staff claimed to have thrown the hard disk, but they were unable to find it. The search continues with the help of the Fire Force’s scuba team.

What happened at the hotel party

After several days of investigation, the police found that there was an altercation at the party. When things turned ugly, the models and their friends left the hotel. On their way back, the car hit a two-wheeler, lost control, overturned and crashed onto a tree.

However, the police found that a vehicle had followed the models’ car. During interrogation, the driver said that the victims’ car was driven at an extremely high speed.

The police asked those present at the party to come forward to record their statements, but that did not help since many participants were unregistered. Those who had registered are being summoned.

The car chase and the alleged drug offer

The person who chased the ill-fated car (a Ford Figo) in an Audi, Saiju Thankachan, approached the court on November 18, seeking anticipatory bail. According to police, he is a drug peddler and has links with the drug trafficking mafia in Kochi. Thankachan reportedly called up and informed the hotel owner about the crash.

According to reports, Thankachan invited the models to an after-party get-together at No 18 Hotel, but the girls rejected the invitation. An incensed Thankachan is reported to have chased the car of the models in an Audi. Abdul Rahman had already given his statement, which said that Thankachan had blocked the car of models near Vytilla and invited them to his house by offering costly drugs.

Kerala car crash - Timeline
Image Credit: Seyyed de la Llata/Gulf News

Hotel in the Excise radar

The No 18 Hotel was already under the observation of the Customs and Enforcement Department on suspicion of holding drug-fuelled parties. That was after Kerala Police formed a special cell to find and prevent the use of drugs in the film industry last year. Several cases had been registered based on the leads from the cell about rave parties hosted in hotels.

According to media reports from Kerala, the State Director General of Police received an intelligence report in May 2021, indicating that No 18 Hotel was a trading point for drugs. The report also included pictures of Thankachan, but no action was taken because of hotel owner Vayalat’s alleged links with some police officers.

Excise officials raided the hotel on October 23 after reports that the liquor was served after the deadline of 9pm. The hotel’s bar licence was suspended on November 2 after finding violations.

What the waiter said

Sobin, a waiter at the No 18 Hotel, told the media that the two models were regulars at the hotel and was very close to the hotel owner Vayalat. A hotel management student in Kochi, Sobin, who works part-time, served food to the models on the ill-fated night.

It was not a night party, Sobin said, adding that it was a regular get-together with close friends of the owner. The group ordered a bottle of liquor and French fries, but the girls did not drink, Sobin said, adding that Ansi paid the bill of Rs1,500 via Good Pay. Sobin, 24, also denied reports of the presence of a VIP or special guest during the event.

As for the missing hard disk, Sobin feels that it could be due to the lingering fears after an earlier Excise raid at the hotel. Since liquor was served at the party till 11.30pm, beyond the 9pm deadline, the owner could have destroyed the hard disk, Sobin argued.

Leading fashion show director and choreographer Dalu Krishnadas, who attended the party, also denied the presence of a special guest. He said baseless rumours have been circulating on the media.

Hotel owner, models and friends

Ansi Kabeer and her friends have known Vayalat very well, the police said, adding that Vayalat and Ansi’s mother were collegemates in Kochi and members of an alumni group.

The twist from an anonymous message

In another twist, the police received an anonymous message that the models were given soft drinks laced with drugs. However, police suffered a significant setback when the hotel owner and staff received bail within 24 hours of their arrest. The police had sought three days’ custody.

Crime branch to investigate the case

The families of victims have urged the police to clear the mystery around the car crash through a proper investigation. Expressing dissatisfaction at the current investigation, the families wanted to know why an Audi car followed Ansi and her friends.

The investigation has been transferred to the district crime branch, with the Superintendent of Police Biji George heading the probe. The development came after questions were raised on the local police’s delay in recording Abdul Rahman’s statement, recovering CCTV footage from the hotel, and questioning the hotel owner.

Hotel owner’s police links?

In another development, a special branch report said two high-ranking police officials had intervened to save Vayalat. The government is reportedly planning to take action against the officials, reports said.

— With inputs from ANI, IANS and PTI