CORONER’S FILE: Twist of fate
This series gives in greater detail some of the verdicts delivered by Coroner Faith Marshall-Harris following hearings into unnatural deaths across the island.
Mervin Antonio Callender, 33, of Church Gap, Hillaby, St Thomas, died on March 27, 2007, at Dukes Road, St Thomas, where his car Z 1576 fatally collided with minibus B 127 driven by Deverson Carter.
Callender was an acting supervisor at the Transport Board. He used to be a bus driver for eight years before being placed in that position.
As supervisor, he mostly operated from the base at Weymouth, although he would drive on the odd occasion, if so required.
He worked a 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. shift with an off-day on Thursday or Sunday.
However, Callender rarely took any time off. When not at work at the Transport Board he would operate his car as a taxi, hence the registration number Z 1576, from Accra Beach taxi stand in Christ Church.
He would be there most evenings and night and would come home in the early hours of the morning. He would then set off for work at the Transport Board to reach there for 7 a.m.
Callender was overweight, lived a very quiet life, and, according to his mother, spent any downtime he had sleeping. His mother said he had a sleep problem in that he snored very loudly and would sometimes fall asleep while one was in conversation with him.
Apart from that, he exhibited no other signs of ill health and was not being treated at the time of his death for any illnesses.
Callender left home driving his taxi on Monday March 26, 2007, about 7:30 p.m. as usual and it was assumed that he was off to his second job at the Accra taxi stand. At about 5:50 a.m. the next day he had still not returned. This was unusual and caused some surprise to his family who estimated that his return home would normally be much earlier.
Deverson Carter normally drove minibus B151 plying the Sturges route, but on Tuesday, March 27, he was asked to drive B127, operating the Hillaby Route, as the driver for that route was on sick leave. Carter had been a driver since 1991.
He started the journey to Bridgetown without a conductor, who was to join him at Jackson where he lived, collecting about 11 passengers along the way. Carter’s passengers, with one exception, said Carter was driving at moderate speed.
One witness, Stephen Rollins, stated that he (Carter) and another minibus driver were racing, trying to get in front of each other in order to collect more passengers, but this was not corroborated by other passengers on the bus.
Those passengers who saw and heard what happened, confirmed Carter’s version of the collision. He told the court that he was driving along Duke’s Road going towards Bridgetown.
He stopped at a bus stop at Content and picked up three passengers. Very shortly thereafter as he reached a bend in the road, he saw a white Toyota Corolla Z1576 approaching from the opposite direction drifting from its side onto the right side of the road and into his path. The witnesses described it as “drifting” as it did not appear to be at speed or deliberate.
Carter said that he was travelling at about 40 kph. This was confirmed by others who also pointed out that he had not long before that pulled off from the bus stop and since he had neither a Porche or a Ferrari engine which could have accelerated to a faster speed in a few seconds, the 40 or 45 kph must be believed.
As the white car came towards him Carter leaned on his horn and tried to brake, but as he put his foot on the brake the two vehicles crashed into each other head-on, causing the brake to “fly up” and fracture Carter’s foot.
The impact caused Z1576 to spin around in the road and come to a halt on the left side of the road, facing the opposite direction from which it had been approaching. Carter said he lost control of the minibus, which continued to travel.
The steering mechanism was damaged and he was unable to bring it back to the proper side of the road. It therefore struck another car driven by Lorraine Herbert which was travelling behind
Z1576 going in the same direction. Carter said that this car was on its left and proper side, but the bus, now out of control, collided with it and pushed it into the nearby bushes on the left side.
The bus eventually came to rest on the right side of the road on an embankment. The impact caused injury to the passengers who mostly ended up on the dashboard on top of one another.
Carter pointed out that when he first saw the car Z1576 it was on its proper side but it appeared as if the driver had lost control at that time and it drifted over to the right side. This was as it approached the corner from which the minibus had just emerged.
Carter eventually got out of the bus and went towards the severely damaged car. There he saw the driver lying back, as the seat was in a reclining position, his eyes were closed as if he was sleeping and he was motionless.
Herbert was that morning en route from her home at Fisherpond, St Thomas, to collect her granddaughter. She said the road was clear of traffic, dry and of fairly good repair.
She noted that ahead of her was Z1576 going towards the incline of Dukes Bottom. At one stage that vehicle stopped and the driver seemed to be bending over. She was not sure.
However, the driver soon resumed his journey on his left and proper side. When she reached the bottom of Dukes Road she saw that the driver ahead of her was approaching the corner. At the same time she saw, coming out of that corner a minibus, travelling in the opposite direction towards Shop Hill. She saw that there were passengers on board and she described the speed of the minibus as moderate.
It was at that point she saw Z1576 veer off its path and go towards the minibus, meeting it head-on in the said corner. In her opinion, this caused the minibus to swerve off the road, which then went out of control and collide with her car which was about two car lengths away from Z1576.
Herbert said she held on tight to her steering wheel trying to take control of the vehicle to avoid further damage, but was eventually pushed off the road and into the bushes.
Her car then came to a halt and the airbags were deployed. She saw smoke coming from her vehicle, so she struggled out and ran away from it, lest it was on fire. She was rescued by passers-by who took her to the minibus where she sat down.
Herbert said the collision started as Carter had said with Z 1576 drifting into the path of the minibus. She saw nothing in the road which could have caused the driver of Z 1576 to stop, or later to drift over to the right side.
One of the passengers, who knew the driver of Z1576, Dacian Griffith, approached the vehicle and found Mervin Callender, known to him as “Iceman”, lying back with a cellphone in his left hand which was then lying on his thigh. Griffith also noted that the driver, Carter, had started to sound his horn as soon as he saw Callender’s car coming towards him, apparently about to collide. He also corroborated Carter’s statement that he was driving at a moderate speed –about 45 kph.
In other particulars, it is noteworthy that some persons attempted to change the statements they gave to the police at the time of the collision.
These were later shown by cross examination to be attempts to varnish the truth which could not be substantiated by independent assessment.
Reconstructionist Sergeant Roger Mayers indicated that Dukes Bottom Road, St?Thomas, where the collision occurred is a two lane road running north or south.
It is in good repair and visibility is good. Mayers noted that the deceased’s body weight was over 200 pounds and that he has sustained massive head and facial injuries. His assessment of the scene confirmed that Z1576 had travelled into the path of B 127, which was on its left and proper side, coming out of a left-hand bend which Z 1576 was then approaching.
It may be deduced that given the data collected that either Callender had fallen asleep at the wheel or was on his cellphone when he collided with B127.
Given the evidence of Herbert that she saw Z1576 stopping and starting, the former proposition would appear to be closer to the truth.
Callender died, the post mortem indicated, as a result of head and chest injuries.
Verdict:?Accident death in a vehicular collision