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Coroner’s Inquest into Patsy Bowman’s death ends

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The lawyers for the estate of Patricia Bowman are contemplating their next legal move now that the Coroner’s Inquest into her death has ended.{{more}}

On September 18, a five-member jury ruled that Patricia Bowman’s cause of death was manslaughter, a result of negligence on the part of the engineer and contractors who constructed the wall.

Lawyer Nicole Sylvester, who represents the estate of Patricia and Alban Bowman, said that the jury’s ruling assisted them (lawyer Patina Knights also represents Alban Bowman) as legal practioners. Sylvester added that they are currently assessing the matter to determine a way forward. She did mention, however, that the jury’s decision supports the contention of her client that someone should be held responsible for Patricia’s unnatural death.

Businessman Alex Jack hired engineer Glenford Stewart to design, and contractors to construct a retaining wall surrounding his property at Ratho Mill. The wall collapsed on September 19, 2008, after days of heavy rainfall, crushing Bowman, 67, in her vehicle.

Engineer Glenford Stewart was cross-examined by counsel on the final day of the inquest, Friday, September 18. Stewart, during cross-examination, said that the wall was built taking into consideration its proximity to the Windward Highway. “It was safe and sound for a location like that, yes,” Stewart said.

When asked by lawyer Samuel Commissiong about the strength of a stone masonry wall, Stewart responded, using examples of stone masonry walls in various countries and in St. Vincent that have “stood up for centuries”. Stewart mentioned that the strength of the bonding properties of the mortar used to bind the stone, and the steel used as reinforcement determine the strength of the wall.

Stewart, who said that he saw water gushing from the pipes in the wall, gave an explanation as to why the wall failed.

Stewart said that during rainfall, water flows to the lowest point of the wall. He said this is where the maximum force will be applied. “In engineering, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to determine the forces which come into play in a landslide event,” he said.

The wall, he said, collapsed as a result of the overwhelming force of water and liquid filled soil behind the wall. “The stem (of the wall) was overcome by the forces of the landslide; it failed as a consequence,” he said.

He added that the decreasing thickness of the wall as it increased in height did not contribute to its failure and that the stem of the top of the wall was not inadequate. “Because the forces (lateral) are reduced as we increase in height, we can reduce the thickness of the wall as we increase in height,” he said.

The Coroner’s Inquest, which began on May 25, 2009, saw several witnesses testifying, including Patricia’s husband Alban, property owner Alex Jack, Chief Engineer Brent Bailey, officials from the planning division, the National Emergency Management Organization and Kelvin Burgess, an engineer from Trinidad and Tobago.

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