Four Jamaica schoolchildren die in accident

(Jamaica Observer), Manchester — The death of four Holmwood Technical High School students as a result of a bus crash in Chudleigh, North East Manchester, yesterday has again placed on the front burner the issue of careless driving in the public transportation sector.

It has also added fuel to calls for a dedicated rural transport system for schoolchildren.

The Manchester police alleged last night that the driver of one of two minibuses taking children to school attempted to overtake improperly resulting in the horrific crash. Head of the Manchester Police, Superintendent Marlon Nesbeth, confirmed that the driver will be charged for four counts of manslaughter and taken before the court today.

“We are appealing to drivers in general to exercise care and caution. They should take into consideration that they are responsible for many lives,” Nesbeth said.

Holmwood students Kimona Levy, Shaneka Muschette and Okeen Gordon were pronounced dead at the Percy Junor Hospital in Spalding. A fourth student, Tameka Peart, died after being airlifted to the University Hospital of the West Indies in St Andrew.

The students died when the two minibuses in which they and more than 30 others were travelling from Mandeville to Christiana collided with a truck in the Chudleigh area.

Devon Lindo, who identified himself as a sideman on a marl truck that was involved in the accident, told the Jamaica Observer that at about 8:00 am at Chudleigh a minibus travelling in the opposite direction attempted to overtake a box body truck.

However, according to Lindo, the overtaking minibus collided with the marl truck, which in turn spun and hit another minibus that was immediately behind.

This is the latest of several fatal and serious accidents involving public passenger vehicles carrying Holmwood students in northern Manchester and southern Trelawny in recent years. Earlier this year, 18 students were injured in a bus crash on Pen Hill main road and in 2011, four students died on the Bryce Hill Road after a speeding bus crashed and overturned.

The incident hit the school community hard.

“It is really hard, but we have put some things in place already to (to help traumatised students,” Vice-Principal Edward Hector told the Observer.

He said in addition to the school’s two guidance counsellors, other counsellors from nearby schools had visited to offer assistance.

Meanwhile, Member of Parliament for North East Manchester Audley Shaw, who was early on the scene, was among those urging the police to take a zero-tolerance approach to reckless bus and taxi drivers and move decisively to take them off the nation’s streets. He also reiterated his call for the introduction of a regulated rural school bus system that will see to it that “our children are safely transported to and from schools”.

Similar calls came from the Jamaica Teachers’ Association, the Jamaica Association of Transport Owners and Operators, the Route Taxi Association of Jamaica, and the National Parent Teachers’ Association.

Earl McLaughlin, chief executive officer of the Percy Junor Hospital ,said it was a co-ordinated effort between his hospital and the Mandeville Regional Hospital to administer treatment of the 34 casualties that came in for treatment.

McLaughlin said that when the hospital has to provide medical care in an emergency situation like yesterday, they have to convert the limited space at the Accident and Emergency Department into a ward, increase the private security, and get assistance from the police.

He said that there are plans in place for an adequately equipped Accident and Emergency Department at a cost of $330 million.

“We need to move beyond talk now,” he said.

Meanwhile, the obviously traumatised sideman on the accident scene felt the deaths and injuries could have been prevented.

“I feel cut up. This is just stupidness weh the driver do. That is carelessness. (There was) no opportunity there to overtake,” he said.

One parent, Camille Newton, said that her two daughters, who were students at Bishop Gibson High in Mandeville, were among the 44 people injured (one eventually died) in a collision on Pen Hill in February 2012. She said that more needs to be done by the authorities.

“It (accident) happening too often, man. We need it to stop. What is the justice system doing? Nothing,” she said.

Newton said that one of her daughters now walks with a limp and the other has occasional blackouts because of the head injuries. She said that one of the drivers from that accident is back on the road while the other is abroad.

Newton said that she will be among protesters wearing black at the scene of the most recent accident, today.

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