Appeal Court upholds conviction of Tazim Gafoor for causing child’s death by driving

-but imposes reduced one-year sentence

Varshanie Seelall

After enjoying his freedom for close to four years although he was convicted for the dangerous driving death of a child, businessman Tazim Gafoor yesterday learned that he would have to serve a year-long sentence for the crime.

Tazim Gafoor

The sentence was imposed by the Court of Appeal, which yesterday affirmed Gafoor’s conviction but substituted a lighter sentence.

Magistrate Rhondell Weever had originally sentenced the businessman to four years behind bars after his conviction in 2014 for causing the death of 4-year-old Varshanie Seelall by dangerous driving.

He later appealed both his conviction and sentence, disputing in the first instance that the child died as a result of injuries she may have sustained in the accident. Meanwhile, he argued in the second instance that the sentence was too harsh.  After reviewing the evidence presented at trial, however, and applying case law to the facts surrounding the issue of what caused the child’s death, the court found that Varshanie succumbed to injuries she sustained in the accident.

On account of this finding, Justice of Appeal Arif Bulkan, who delivered the ruling of the court, said that the magistrate’s conviction of Gafoor would be affirmed as it had been sound and proper.

The court made it clear that Magistrate Weever did not err in finding the appellant guilty as charged.

For this specific ground therefore, Gafoor’s appeal was dismissed.

Noting that the court was mindful of tempering justice with mercy, however, the judge informed Gafoor that his appeal was being partially allowed to the extent that the sentence of four years was being reduced to one.

The court considered that at the time of his conviction the man was a first-offender and the father of a young child. Justice Bulkan did, however, note the level of the carnage on the country’s roadways, which he said has sadly become a regular occurrence. To this end, he said that road users needed to be protected and that a strong message needed to be sent to potential offenders.

After hearing that he would have to spend the next year behind bars, a visibly-distressed Gafoor, who was seated in the public gallery, seemed to be contemplating his next move even as members of the Guyana Police Force drew close with a pair of handcuffs to prepare him for his journey to the prisons.

A teary-eyed relative of the man appeared equally distressed after realising that he would be going to prison.

After being convicted on November 18th, 2014, Gafoor was imprisoned for a short period of time before being granted bail pending the hearing and determination of his appeal. 

In addition to Justice Bulkan, the appeal was also heard by Justices of Appeal Dawn Gregory and Rishi Persaud.

Gafoor was represented by attorneys Glenn Hanoman and Everton Singh-Lammy.

The state, meanwhile, was represented by Prosecutor Tamieka Clarke.

Seelall who was said to have suffered a fractured skull in the accident and was placed on a life-support machine, never regained consciousness.

The accident occurred around 9.50 pm on September 22, 2013  at Cotton Tree, a short distance away from her home. She was returning home from the East Coast with her mother, Jenita Seelall, 29, her uncle, Hardat and his wife, Drupattie along with a family friend, Devi.

Hardat was driving a silver grey Toyota Carina car, PMM 8599 belonging to the girl’s father when a burgundy Tundra driven by Gafoor slammed it.

She was rushed to the Fort Wellington Hospital along with the others who sustained various injuries. Varshanie and her mother were transferred to the GPHC. The child was placed on a life-support machine and relatives had prayed for the best.

Fragments from the broken windscreen had also gotten into Jenita’s eyes and she had to undergo emergency surgery at a private hospital.

A relative said she was sitting on her veranda when she saw the Tundra passing at a fast rate and thought that it would “make an accident before it reach the turn.”

Before she knew it there was a loud impact but she “had no second thought that it was my people” involved. She later decided to call Jenita on her cell phone and she responded that they were in an accident.

Distraught relatives recalled that the child was very brilliant and brave for her age and loved to help with chores. The child who also loved to dress up “built a good relationship with people; she would call out to them whenever they pass,” the grieving relatives said.

Gafoor has had other recent brushes with the law.

The 45-year-old man, of Lot 39 Menzies Street, Windsor Forest, West Coast Demerara, was charged with attempting to pervert the course of justice in September of 2016 following the discovery of over 9 kilogrames of cocaine. In that matter, two persons had been charged over cocaine found in a frozen fish shipment that was destined for New York.

Additionally, he is currently before the court facing a trafficking charge after a bust made last year of over 84 kilogrames of cocaine, which had been discovered in dressed lumber. The cocaine carried a street value of $550 million.

Though initially remanded on this charge, Gafoor was subsequently able to secure his pretrial liberty after being granted bail by the High Court.  

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