Oscar Pistorius asked friend to take blame after firing gun in restaurant, trial hears

Crowds swarm Oscar Pistorius as he leaves court. Photo: Channel Seven
Crowds swarm Oscar Pistorius as he leaves court. Photo: Channel Seven

Each day Oscar Pistorius leaves court, the crowd of South Africans gathered to catch a glimpse of their home-town Olympic hero grows in size.

They surround Pretoria’s High Court, cheering and brandishing smartphones, with most of them indifferent to his guilt or innocence of murder. To them, he is a celebrity.

In the face of dozens more professional camera lenses, Pistorius appears unmoved by the spectacle and keeps his gaze focused firmly ahead. Surrounded by burly relatives, private security guards and police, he clings to those around him to ensure he doesn’t fall or trip in the crush.

As his trial for murdering 29-year-old model and TV starlet Reeva Steenkamp continued on Wednesday, evidence turned away from the primary charge and focused instead on the prosecution’s second count, that he discharged a firearm in a public place on January 11, 2013.

It appeared to somehow relax the man known as the ''Blade Runner'' for his athletic feats on carbon fibre blades.

Pistorius is accused of recklessly firing a bullet in a Johannesburg restaurant, Tasha’s, narrowly avoiding serious injury.

His professional boxer friend Kevin ''KO Kid'' Lerena described how his own foot was grazed by the bullet, which drilled a hole in the floor under their table just metres from fellow diners.

The incident occurred as their friend, Darren Fresco, passed Pistorius the weapon underneath the table, apparently because the athlete was interested in purchasing a similar gun.

Lerena, who described the double-amputee as an ''icon and a legend'', said he heard Mr Fresco tell Pistorius that he was ''one up'', meaning there was one bullet in the chamber.

''A shot went off in the restaurant and there was just complete silence,'' Lerena said.

''Once the shot went off I looked down ... exactly near my foot was a hole in the floor. I wasn’t hurt or injured, I didn’t need any treatment ... but there was blood on my toe,'' Lerena said, adding it must have been grazed by the bullet.

Pistorius immediately asked if everybody was OK, and apologised to his friends. ''I don’t know how the gun went off,'' Lerena recalled Pistorius saying.

However, the Paralympian also immediately sought to deflect any blame, asking Mr Fresco to take responsibility.

''Please just say it was you ... I don’t need any attention around me, just say it was you,'' he said Pistorius pleaded. ''So Darren [Fresco] took the blame.

''The bill was paid and we left and I never spoke about it again.''

Pistorius’ barrister Barry Roux later suggested to Lerena that his client had not heard what Mr Fresco said about the gun being loaded, as the restaurant was noisy.

Lerena agreed it was loud, but said he had clearly heard the comment.

Mr Roux also suggested Pistorius had been ''very shocked and very apologetic'', offering to pay the restaurant for the damage to the floor. But Lerena said he did not recall that occurring.

While nowhere near as serious as the murder charge, the prosecution is hoping to use the evidence surrounding the incident at the restaurant to suggest Pistorius is trigger-happy and a man who handles guns recklessly.

Gun ownership is high in South Africa largely due to the high crime rate, although many have firearms for recreational use.

The restaurant’s owner, Jason Loupis, told the court he could not believe a gun had gone off in his restaurant.

''I asked the guys, 'What happened here?' ... Mr Fresco said, 'Sorry Jason, my gun fell out of my tracksuit pants','' Mr Loupis told the court. ''I said are you serious? This is not a joke.''

In a sign of the somewhat casual approach to the incident, his wife Maria, who approached the group with the bill a short time later, said she admonished Mr Fresco.

''I asked him what should be the first rule of owning a gun? It’s safety first – then I hit him over the head,'' she said, to smirks from the public gallery.

The men paid the bill and left.

The trial resumes on Thursday.

This story Oscar Pistorius asked friend to take blame after firing gun in restaurant, trial hears first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.