– survivor recovering; cops spoke to US visitor
Two days after four people died from consuming a cocaine-laced multivitamin, police are yet to arrest the man who took the item to an East La Penitence home to a cousin for her to take to the United States.
Crime Chief Leslie James confirmed yesterday that police are looking for this man and another person of interest in relation to the case. The suspect identified as “Barney” is said to be the focus of the police investigation and based on what Stabroek News was told, also lived in the East La Penitence area.
During a visit to the home where the man was said to reside, two women sitting on the veranda, with some reluctance indicated that he lived there but said that they did not know of his whereabouts. “He does come and go cause he father living right around hay,” one of the women said. They added that they would have never expected such behaviour from him as they did not know him as that sort of person. They said too that police had already visited the home but they did not know if the man was arrested.
James, when contacted for an update, said that investigators are looking for two persons of interest. He said that two persons were “provisionally held” as part of the initial investigation and they have since been released. Stabroek News understands that they were arrested within hours of the deaths.
Asked if the person who reportedly took the tonic and other items to the house where it was consumed, had been detained the Crime Chief responded in the negative. He added that police are still looking for that person, for him to offer an explanation regarding what has happened.
Former army officer Alex Blair, 40, his reputed wife, hairdresser Simone Price, 36, their son, Jahaquel Blair, 6, a student of the St Pius Primary School and a family friend Natasha George, 36, who was an employee of John Fernandes Limited died on Sunday after drinking from a bottle of SSS Tonic in which cocaine had been dissolved. The child was the last to die.
Another son, Jamal Waterman, 12, who also drank some of the liquid but spat it out and drank juice to rid himself of the numbing taste survived the tragedy and has been admitted a patient at the Georgetown Public Hospital.
Police said in a statement that investigations have so far revealed that the bottle of SSS Tonic with the cocaine dissolved inside, along with casareep and chicken foot (Sev), had been left at the house by a man known to them for a female guest from overseas to take back when she was returning. The woman, according to the police, did not carry the items and during Sunday morning, the victims consumed some of the SSS Tonic which had been left in their possession.
Stabroek News was subsequently told that prior to drinking the tonic, they had consumed the chicken foot.
The Blairs and George live opposite each other on Cocorite Street, East La Penitence and were friends for many years. Stabroek News was reliably informed that Price and the overseas guest identified as “Candy” were sisters.
Meanwhile, Waterman’s father Wilbert Waterman said that his son is recovering but the child did not know that the others have died. He said that the boy is communicating and is “very conscious and very aware.” He recalled that when he saw his son, the boy erupted into tears.
The elder Waterman recounted that the hospital staff pumped the lad’s stomach when he arrived and said that they have so far done “a wonderful job…We’ll just keep a close watch on him…” He added that the child is under close observation to ensure that that everything is alright.
According to Waterman, he was shaken up when he got the news of the tragedy. He recalled that it was his brother who had to communicate with the doctors on his behalf.
The man told Stabroek News that “Candy” was informed by a friend about the deaths and she subsequently made contact with him. He said that she told him that she will take a few days to relax and will then return to Guyana. The woman is shocked by the tragedy, he related.
Relatives of George told Stabroek News that the woman refused to take the items on the advice of her husband who warned her not to take anything from anyone during her visit here. When Stabroek News visited the area, the Blairs’ residence was locked while there were a few persons gathered at George’s home. While there were no teary faces, everyone was clearly affected by the tragedy.
What is unclear is why “Barney” was not told that the items were not taken to the US or why they were not returned to him.
Asked what would be the charge in a case such as this, James said that it would be too early to pronounce on such an issue as based on the outcome of the investigation, the appropriate charge would be laid.
“As we go along we will investigate based on whatever information we get,” he added while stressing that it would be an investigation that would determine what charge should be laid against those found culpable.
Asked about the relative who was supposed to have taken the items with her to the United States, James said that the investigators have already dealt with that aspect of the case. “We have spoken to her,” he said. When asked if given the circumstances, that is enough and whether the police may want to speak with her face-to-face and take a statement, James said that if this becomes necessary, there are provisions in place to deal with that. He said that those provisions were used in previous matters and as such could be applied in this case.
The police official said that the last word on the state of the surviving child was that he was listed as critical but stable. He said that while the ingested substance did have an effect on the child, the medical interventions being used have assisted thus far. James said that things are in place at the moment to deal with the safety of the child.
A security source questioned what evidence the police would have to charge anyone with anything. “What evidence do they have? Everything that they have at this point is hearsay,” the source said before stressing that this is the strangest case he had ever come across.
The source explained that when one puts just a pinch of cocaine on one’s tongue, it immediately becomes numb. It was pointed out too that cocaine is bitter tasting. “I just can’t understand. One drink it, then another, then another. The first person would have immediately started feeling the effects so how is it that multiple persons ended up drinking it?” the source questioned while adding that what the police ought to do as part of their investigation is determine the concentrated strength of the drug. This, the source said, cannot be done here as the force does not have that capability.
Further, the source noted that there seemed to have been some sort of delayed reaction and that in itself is strange as with cocaine, the effects would be felt immediately.
The source stressed that the case as it stands would be difficult to prove as the police will have to determine if there was an intention to traffic the drug. “How can they prove that it was knowingly put there especially if the bottle was sealed prior to it being opened or some store confirmed that it was bought there?” the source questioned.
The source again stressed that there is no evidence to prove that a crime has been committed before pointing out that it is tragic that four persons have died. “Given everything that is out there, the police got a whole lot of work to do. This one will not be easy,” the source said.
It was pointed out that while there is a survivor to the tragedy, the child may be so traumatized he may not even remember what happened.
“This is a difficult situation,” the source reiterated. He said that given the level of cocaine the quartet would have ingested, their deaths should have occurred within minutes. Ingesting cocaine that had a high concentration would have resulted in rapid death. “Now we may never know what really happened because they are all dead,” the source said.
The source opined that had the intention been to traffic the cocaine, those responsible would have wanted to ensure that the highest concentration possible was in that bottle.