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‘Manslaughter by gross negligence’

‘Manslaughter by gross negligence’

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The persons responsible for the minivan that plunged into the sea on January 12, 2015, killing seven students, had been given several warnings to take the vehicle off the road.

This fact was revealed by coroner Rickie Burnett on Tuesday, as he gave a summation at the end of a month-long Coroner’s Inquest into the {{more}}deaths at Rock Gutter, Owia.

Following Burnett’s summation, the jury of five persons took a little over one hour to deliberate and arrive at a verdict that the students’ deaths were as a result of manslaughter by gross negligence; for which driver Ravannan Nanton, conductor Ehud Myers and principal of the Fancy Government School Colbert Bowens were all culpable.

The men were granted bail in the sum of $20,000 each, with two sureties and were not allowed to enter a plea at that stage.

Bowens, who was not present during the closing, had to be summoned to court to learn his fate.

During his summation, Burnett said that the driver, Ravannan Nanton, testified that he was employed in 2014 by pastor Ehud Myers of the Apostolic Faith Mission Church in Fancy to drive the minivan, and that Myers, who was also the minivan’s conductor, made the decisions relating to the minivan.

The minivan was owned by the church.

According to Nanton, the bus was serviced every month by a man named ‘Phillip’.

Further, Burnett said Nanton told the court that there had been emergencies with the minivan between August 2014 and January 2015.

Burnett said that Ravannan testified that he had asked his cousin Laftus Nanton to check the van’s brake master, but that did not take place on Sunday, January 11, 2015, as Ravannan had stated in his evidence.

Laftus, a mechanic, testified that on that date, after a request by Ravannan to service the van, he changed the oil, but did not change the rubbers on the brakes, as had been requested.

Laftus also said he advised Ravannan to “park up the van,” but Ravannan did not. The mechanic said Ravannan told him that when he operated the van, the brakes got hot.

Burnett said that Laftus testified that he told Ravannan to “pull up the brakes,” which means that the handbrake is not good.

Ravannan, in his testimony however, said that he had no such conversation with his cousin Laftus on January 11 and it was sometime earlier in January that they had spoken.

The driver also denied that Laftus had changed the oil filter and that he had asked him to change the rubbers. Further, he denied that he had reported that the brakes became hot when the van was in operation. He also denied that the mechanic advised him to take the van off the road.

However, in a statement given to police, another mechanic, McKinley Roberts, said that Ravannan had told him that the brakes of the van he drove got hot when operated. He said at that time, he knew Ravannan was driving omnibus HL636 and that was the van he was referring to.

In the police statement, Roberts said he advised Ravannan more than once to take the van off the road and have it checked. According to Roberts, Ravannan told him he is accustomed to driving buses like that and he could handle the situation.

Ravannan also denied having such a conversation with Roberts.

Continuing with his summary, Burnett said that Ravannan testified that on January 12, before setting out on that fateful journey, he checked the vehicle’s oil, brake fluid, steering oil and poured water into the radiator.

The journey started well; however, when he got to the middle of the hill heading to Rock Gutter, he felt the brake pedal go in.

“He said he did not say anything to anyone. He pumped the brakes several times. He said the van started leading out with speed. He said he did not see anywhere to make safety nor bank the van. He said he tried to guide the van around the corner.”

According to Burnett, Ravannan testified that he tried unsuccessfully to control the van and also did not apply the handbrake because the accident happened quickly.

Pastor Myers, who was functioning as the minivan’s conductor on the day of the accident, said the minivan, a used vehicle, was acquired in 2013 and was last serviced in December 2014.

Myers said to the best of his knowledge, the van was in good working condition at the time of the accident. He stated that in December 2014, he took the vehicle to Dalton Chance of Diamond who installed a new radiator. He said an upper arm bearing, liquid and a brake master were also purchased for the van.

Myers also testified that when it came to the servicing of the minibus, it was he, Bowens and Nanton who made the decisions.

In his testimony, headteacher of the Fancy Government School Colbert Bowens, who is also a pastor of the Apostolic Faith Mission Church, corroborated Myers’ testimony that both he and Myers made the decisions in relation to servicing the bus.

Bowens admitted that there were times when the bus experienced mechanical problems, but these problems were always sorted out by a mechanic and that the van encountered brake failure sometime in 2014.

Investigating officer Station Sergeant Junior Nero testified that after the incident, he saw a tyre impression on the surface of the road in the form of a ‘C’. However, he said the impression was not made by a brake.

Evidence also coming to the fore was that the vehicle had been worked on by several mechanics.

Burnett said in his evidence, Corporal Pope said he carried out inspection on the remains on the vehicle on January 17, 2015, in the presence of the driver.

Pope testified that he took off the rear and front wheels of the minivan and discovered that the outer front disc pad was missing.

“Corporal Pope said the outer front disc pad could have been removed during the incident. He said inner disc pads were found between the ankle plate and the router. He said this is not the correct position they should have been. He said the piece of pad that was found between the ankle plate and the router was worn down to metal. He said the parts could have been missing for a long period…

“He said the right caliper, the top bolt was missing, causing the caliper to be dislodged and was rubbing against the inner part of the rim,” Pope had testified, stating however, that he did not inspect the vehicle until it was brought to the police and was in no position to say if the bolt was in place the morning of the incident.

Several students who survived the accident also gave testimony during the inquest, which began on October 3.

A total of 30 persons testified in the matter, from which the media was excluded.

Further directions are expected to be handed down by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to determine the next step in the matter.

Jamalie and Jamall Edwards, Racquel Ashton, Glenroy Michael and Annique Alexander perished in the January 12 incident. Chanstacia Stay and Simonique Ballantyne were never found and are presumed dead.

They were students of the North Union Secondary, Georgetown Secondary and St Vincent Grammar schools.

A joint funeral service for the children took place on January 25, at Fancy. (KW)

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