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CORONER’S FILE: Last trek for a smoke

rhondathompson, [email protected]

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THIS?NEW?SERIES gives in greater detail some of the verdicts delivered by Coroner Faith Marshall-Harris following hearings into unnatural deaths across the island.
MURIEL ASHBY-KING, 68, of Cane Vale Gap, Christ Church, died on September 18, 2007 on Welches Road, Christ Church as a result of colliding with a motor vehicle driven by Carlton Proute.
Ashby-King was a retired public servant who was well known in the Oistins area as she would be observed in her very early morning trips to and from the Esso auto mart to purchase cigarettes.
Ashby-King had suffered a “nervous breakdown” in her early 30s according to her daughter. This was said to have occurred as a result of a traumatic event in a long term relationship with the father of her children and this had led to her being institutionalised at the Psychiatric Hospital.
It was diagnosed that there was no underlying mental or psychiatric disability but that Ashby-King had retreated to where she felt safe and refused to deal with the reality of that troubling experience. As a result, she became an outpatient of that hospital and was treated by monthly injections at the Randall Phillips Polyclinic.
Thereafter she returned to work and continued her employment until medically boarded in 1974. She had regular interviews and check-ups at the Psychiatric Hospital, which indicated satisfactory progress. She was therefore very capable of competent execution of her daily domestic chores and was well able to care for herself and family, some of whom resided with her.
Her “breakdown” left her, however, with one huge habit. She became a chain smoker who consumed up to three packs of cigarettes daily and her frequent trips on foot to the convenience store to feed this habit would be the only reason she was found walking the streets.
Her relatives said she did not wander the streets aimlessly, she had a set routine and could always be found and always knew where she was going. They confirmed that she was of very sound mind.
While she appeared relatively healthy and ate well, Ashby-King had been losing weight in recent times and lung cancer had been suspected. At the time of her death tests were still being conducted. She would also walk and drag one foot, a condition which had been attributed by doctors to poor circulation. She could therefore neither run nor walk very fast.
She had a close relationship with her children, one of whom, Kenneth Ashby-King, resided with her. Her daughter Sonia Ashby-King and her grandson Rommell Russell had lived with her up to three years before her death. Another son, Charles, lived very close by and visited her every day.
They all knew her routine and could set their clock by her, so to speak. She would go to bed very early, sometimes by 6 p.m. and up by 4 to 5 a.m. and walking to the Esso Auto Mart at Oistins to buy her first pack of cigarettes for the day and a coke. She had been doing this for more than 20 years and never exhibited any signs of mental confusion.
Her son Charles last saw her alive on the Monday. She was as alert and as physically fit as was the norm for her. She was neither depressed nor ailing. She had her usual appointment at the polyclinic the following day and was reminded of it because once she was reminded she would faithfully attend. She registered no undue concern about this appointment.
Charles Ashby-King, like his siblings, attested to the fact that daily his mother would go to the Esso station in Oistins and no further. She would immediately walk back home. She would smoke those cigarettes and as soon as they were finished she would walk back to Oistins to purchase some more.
Her daughter said she always took the same route along Cane Vale Road, Welches and Oistins and afterwards retraced her steps. She usually got back home safely around 5:30 a.m. each day. She was never observed to be wandering aimlessly and was a very careful pedestrian.
Her hearing and sight were excellent, her relatives said. She would sometimes make the trip for cigarettes several times daily until her money ran out and sometimes when it did she would stand on the corner at Cane Vale Gap and beg anyone passing for a cigarette.
Sometimes they would give her money and off she would go to buy more cigarettes and then she would return home again and smoke them.
Kenneth, whilst half-asleep, heard the outer door opened on Tuesday, September 18, 2007 at around 5 a.m. and knew that his mother had set off as usual. He expected her back home, as was the norm, about 30 to 60 minutes thereafter. On this occasion however, he listened out for her in vain.
Ironically, Carlton Proute was the proprietor of the gas station and auto mart where Ashby-King bought her cigarettes and Coca-cola daily. He knew her well, not to have a conversation, but they always greeted each other with the usual salutations. She always referred to him as “young man” and spoke politely whenever she saw him.
He, too, knew her routine and would see her walking the road. Unlike her relatives however, he felt that the way she walked the road could lead to future trouble and had mentioned this to others. He said he would also sometimes see her standing on the corner under a sea grape tree across the road from the seaside.
This would seem to coincide with the evidence that she sometimes stood at the corner begging for cigarettes or money.
Proute had a daily routine too. As proprietor of the gas station, he would leave home between 2 or 3 a.m. to go to the gas station which is open 24 hours to check on operations. He would leave again at around 5:10 – 5:30 a.m.
On this particular day, he saw Ashby-King come to the store as usual about 4:45 a.m. and made her usual purchase. Proute left the gas station shortly thereafter about 5:10 a.m heading west.
On this occasion, instead of going home, he was heading towards Bridgetown to a bakery which supplied his store. He said the road was dry and in good condition. It was not yet light, there was an early morning gloom but it was not fully dark.
In any event the road was illuminated by streetlights. He also had his headlights on but they were on dim for a vehicle which had just passed him going east.
As he drew close to the Oistins convenience store and opposite the Oistins car park, he saw a figure approaching on the same side as he. He could not at that point identify the person but when the figure got within 30 feet of him and directly in front of the Welches Assembly Hall, the figure appeared to dart across his path as if impulsively deciding to cross the road.
Indeed, this point would be directly opposite the sea grape tree where he often saw Ashby-King standing. Proute said he was travelling at about 60 kph and the road was devoid of traffic. The figure he saw had been walking at the very edge of the road and it was noted that indeed there was no pavement and a pedestrian would have on occasion to step out into the road in order to make progress.
It was noteworthy that the point at which Proute encountered this pedestrian was past the turn off to Cane Vale. There is a church step which comes right down into the road and in order to get past, a pedestrian must either step into the road or climb the steps of the church to avoid collision.
Proute told the court that this movement seemed to him to be sudden, almost like a run which left him little time to brake, so the figure collided with the right side of his vehicle and fell forward on the bonnet. He was then able to brake and that sudden movement caused the person to be thrown into the road. He got out and  recognised Ashby-King who was found later to have died instantly.
Proute said he was not sleepy, had not drunk any alcoholic drink and had taken no medication which could have caused drowsiness.
What is open to question is why Ashby-King, who had already purchased her cigarettes and was therefore supposedly on her way home, had gone past her turn-off point and was walking back east towards Oistins? We may never know the answer to that question.
Also, the deceased walked with a noticeable limp, a dragging action and could neither run nor walk fast, yet this is how it appeared to Proute.
Sergeant Roger Mayers, collision reconstructionist, said the road in question has footpaths but they were not continuous. As a result pedestrians were forced to occasionally enter the roadway before they could rejoin the footpath. The court therefore urged that pavements must be constructed along this particular part of the roadway which was becoming dangerous to pedestrians.
What Proute saw as a run or impulsive step across the road was more likely a rapid attempt to get out of his way but because of the deceased’s unsteady gait, this may have appeared more awkward or sudden than the norm.
The post mortem report revealed that Ashby-King died from a broken neck which would have resulted from her having been catapulted into the roadway from the bonnet of the motor vehicle.
Verdict: Accidental death in a vehicular collision