By Dr Sheila Rampersad
April 11, 2013 – www.guardian.co.tt
What might have been an open-and-shut case against a police officer, who ploughed into six residents of Sea Lots along the Beetham Highway, Port-of-Spain, on February 24, has turned into a lengthy and muddled investigation. Three people died and three others were injured in the crash, which occurred along the westbound lane of the highway.
The T&T Guardian was reliably informed that a breathalyser test, which measures blood alcohol level, was administered at 2.47 pm on the day of the fatal collision, almost six hours after the incident. It was administered at the Port-of-Spain General Hospital by WPC Marcia Lopez, a trained breath analysis technician assigned to Besson Street Police Station.
The police officer who was driving the vehicle passed the test with a reading of zero. The breathalyser test was administered in the presence of attending physician Dr Prathap Kumar. The T&T Guardian has also learnt that a blood sample was taken from the off-duty policeman and sent for testing but in an untidy twist, investigators have reported that the blood sample was tested on a machine that was not properly calibrated.
As a result the blood sample has been spoilt. The February 24 collision occurred around 9.10 am. Haydee Paul, 28, and her daughters, Shakira, seven, and Akasha, eight, were on the pavement of the westbound lane of the highway, close to Production Drive, Sea Lots, when a car driven by an off-duty policeman mounted the pavement and slammed into them. They died instantly.
Autopsies on mother and daughters found that they all died of multiple blunt-force traumas. Three other residents—Abigail Assing, Amanda Lalla and Ryan “Dhal” Rampersad—were injured. Assing spent 11 days at the Port-of-Spain General Hospital with injuries to the left side of her body, including her arm and hip, before she was discharged on March 6.
Amanda Lalla is still hospitalised along with Ryan Rampersad, a 20-year-old father of two, who is in critical condition. His mother, Pearl James, told the T&T Guardian last week that her son, who has been in a coma since the accident, is 98 per cent paralysed.
The accident precipitated enraged protests in Sea Lots, with residents complaining that the off-duty officer who was driving the vehicle was intoxicated. They accused police of removing a half-full bottle of alcohol from the vehicle. They also claimed that several police officers showed up after the crash and transported the driver to the hospital, but left the Sea Lots victims lying on the road awaiting ambulances.
Up to the time of writing, the T&T Guardian was told that the police investigator assigned to the case, acting Supt Moses Charles, had not reported the identities of the officers who turned up at the scene of the accident and transported their colleague to the Port-of-Spain General Hospital.
There are two CCTV cameras that could have captured both the collision and its aftermath. One is a police camera and the other controlled by the Ministry of Works. However, no video was captured because of technical and/or operational failures, the T&T Guardian was told.
The driver of the vehicle which caused the tragedy was treated first at the Port-of-Spain General Hospital and later the same day at the St Clair Medical Centre, where he was referred for a CAT scan. He was discharged a day later, on February 25. Today marks 46 days since the incident.