Chief Magistrate upholds no case submission in Rock Gutter case
by Ari Shaw
The courtyard at the Serious Offences Court was awash with emotion last Friday, as the two men who had been charged with seven counts of involuntary manslaughter in the 2015 Rock Gutter tragedy had all charges against them dismissed.
Tears filled the eyes of Ehud Myers, a 68-year-old pastor, and Davanan Nanton, a 37-year-old driver, as they left the courtroom, following the decision of Chief Magistrate Rechanne Browne-Matthias to uphold the no case submission made by their lawyers a week earlier.
On January 12, 2015, seven students â Racquel Ashton, Chanstacia Stay, Glenroy Michael, Jamall and Jamalie Edwards, Simonique Ballantyne and Anique Alexander â died when the minibus HL636, in which they were travelling, plunged into the sea. Nanton was the driver and Myers, the conductor of the bus.
The bodies of Ballantyne and Stay were never recovered and they are presumed dead.
On Tuesday, December 3, 2015, a month-long Coronerâs Inquest into the incident revealed that the persons responsible for the minivan had been given several warnings to take the vehicle off the road. Myers and Nanton were charged, along with head teacher of the Fancy Government School Colbert Bowens; however, the charges were withdrawn from Bowens on May 3, 2016.
During his no case submission on Wednesday, March 22, 2017, lawyer Grant Connell, who represented Myers, told the court that absolutely no evidence was presented to prove that Myers caused the death of the students by omission.
The defence lawyer asked the Chief Magistrate to dismiss the matter, stating that the investigating officer Station Sergeant Junior Nero did not present any evidence as to whose name the vehicle is registered in to show ownership. Lawyer Israel Bruce, Nantonâs lawyer, made a similar submission to that of Connell, adding that the prosecutionâs case rests on the testimonies of the vehicle inspector, Corporal Pope and Nero, the investigator.
Bruce said Nanton decided to keep the vehicle on the road when he lost control, with the hope that the terrain of the road would have helped to slow down the vehicle and cause it to stop safely.
âTo this point, there is not a single witness from the Crown who came to give evidence and indicated what is it that Davanan Nanton ought to have done that he did not do,â Bruce said, adding that that is where the principle of omission lies.
Bruce said that on the few occasions when it appeared to Nanton that something was wrong with the vehicle, he changed the disk pads on the van.
Last Friday, March 31, the Chief Magistrate, in giving her ruling, pointed out that the prosecutionâs case was that the accused caused the death of the students by omission; however, the defence submitted that the Crown has not proven its case. Browne-Matthias said that the crux of the prosecutionâs case was focused on the law of omission, adding that in that context, liability is exceptional and often involves an extension of the concept of causation and who owes a duty to act.
She, however, stated that generally there is no liability for failing to act, although there can be exceptions. She said these include if there was a statutory or contractual duty imposed by law.
The Chief Magistrate further pointed out that the prosecution had called 22 witnesses, including students who survived the crash, and for the most part, their testimonies were emotional, but the three critical witnesses in the case were Corporal Pope, a vehicle inspector; Station Sergeant Junior Nero, the chief investigator; and a certified auto mechanic, McKinley Roberts.
She said that Popeâs evidence was that he inspected the vehicle, but there were no identifying marks on the vehicle. He found that the remains of the vehicleâs disk pads were worn down to the metal. However, Pope was unable to say what caused them to be worn.
The Chief Magistrate said that Popeâs evidence therefore did not assist the court in determining if the disk pads were worn as a result of use in the vehicle or because they were battered by the waves on the day of the accident.
Browne-Matthias said Nero rehashed the entire investigation process, but failed to help the court in identifying who may have failed to act in accordance with some duty owed and the evidence of the mechanic did not assist the court.
The Chief Magistrate, therefore, ruled that the court upheld the defenseâs submission that there was no case to answer.
In an interview with SEARCHLIGHT minutes after Browne-Matthiasâ ruling, Myers thanked God for allowing him to be freed of the charges and stated that the process was not easy.
He said that he had been transporting schoolchildren since 1985 and considered them his own, adding that the Rock Gutter incident was his first accident. Myers said he was traumatized by the accident and spent 15 days in the hospital nursing a fractured leg that had to be operated on.
The elderly man, who could barely hold back his tears, however noted that when he was released from the hospital he sat down with many of the parents and expressed his condolences.
When SEARCHLIGHT spoke with Nanton, he expressed hope that the persons affected would find forgiveness in their hearts.
âOne thing Iâm glad for sure is that it is at rest and everything just take its course, as everybody was looking forward for it and I hope that every one of us find peace and thereâs no more hatred. I definitely donât hate anybody, I definitely donât have anything against anyone. I hope that they find forgiveness in their heart and make it right with God before itâs too late,â said Nanton.
âWe need not to be hating and pulling and tugging against one another, but to love one another and not to see the situation as we see it, but as God see it and I just wanna thank God and I wanna thank those that were prayingâ¦ I just want to thank youâ¦and I hope that all of us soul will be at peace and at rest.â
Nanton, with tears running down his cheeks, said that since the accident he has been trying to reach out the families of the deceased seven and would not stop doing so.
Bowens, who also present in the courtyard, told SEARCHLIGHT that he is happy that the matter is over with, noting that it was a very emotional time for all involved.
Bruce, Nantonâs attorney, said that both men are very sorry for the lives that were lost.
âThey [also] could have been dead people … today. It was a pure genuine accident of a mechanical nature and nothing that was done willful or negligent on the part of Mr Nanton and Mr Myers.â
The attorney further stated that while he is delighted that justice has âplayed its right hand,â he has mixed feelings because seven students, who could have made great contributions towards the island-state, lost their lives.
Bruce, however, observed that although the parents of the seven deceased children would be sad or disappointed that the matter did not go any further, they should not feel aggrieved, nor should they feel as if Nanton and Myers did them something criminal and have got away.
âThe reality of the case is that there is a genuine mechanical failure in the vehicle and they have lost their children and we pray that they would come terms with itâ¦. I trust that they find it in their hearts not to hold anything against these two men of God.â
Myersâ lawyer, Connell, was unavailable for comment, as he was involved in another case which commenced immediately after. (AS)