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CORONER’S FILES: Man overboard

Antionette Connell

CORONER’S FILES: Man overboard

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JOSEPH HENRY HACKETT, 55, of Foster Hall, St John was found submerged in the water in the Bridgetown Fisheries Complex on February 24, 2006, near a boat on which he plied his trade as a fisherman.
It is not certain exactly when he met his death, but he had last been seen at about 12:25 a.m. on February 23 by a security guard at the complex.
His son Joseph Hackett Jr told the court that his father, also known as Boogaloo, originally worked as a labourer at the Ministry of Transport and Works but was a part-time fisherman for most of his life.
He took it up full-time in the last three to four years before his death.
He usually fished with his cousin Ricardo Rowe and others on the fishing vessel The Night Raven or Little Dipper which were day boats that docked in the complex at night.
Hackett would go to Foster Hall and his family on weekends but during the week, while fishing, he would sleep on the boat.
His widow, Marion Hackett and his son noted that he was a habitual heavy drinker. While he did not suffer from any illness that she knew of, Marion said she had seen him so drunk he would stumble about.
His widow last saw him on February 19, 2006, when he left home at 5:30 p.m. to go to the Fisheries Complex to go fishing. She next spoke to him via cellphone on Thursday, February 23, 2006, around 7 p.m. He said he was on the boat in the complex and would be coming home the following morning.
This was not to be.
On the said Thursday, February 23, 2006, Joseph Hackett had gone fishing all day and that evening he was on board The Night Raven moored there from the jetty, frying fish along with a number of fellow fishermen and cronies.
The group that evening included Wayne Holder, Ricardo Rowe, Lionel Rogers and Michael Prescod. After they had eaten, Wayne Holder suggested that he and Hackett go to Nelson Street. It was generally accepted that this is where they would go to drink rum, usually at Brancker’s Shop.
Holder, also known as Wayne Blackett, told the court that he and Hackett went to Brancker’s shop where Hackett purchased a half-bottle of rum and a coke. Hackett drank only one shot and told Holder that he was going somewhere to come back. Holder waited for over an hour, but Hackett did not return and so eventually he finished the rum and left. Holder said he went back to the complex and slept on his boat until morning.
Holder further claimed that when Hackett left him that night, he was not drunk or unsteady. He was certain Hackett had drunk just one shot of rum and he appeared to be in good health and spirits.
Rogers said he phoned Hackett on his cellphone at about 8:30 p.m., prior to going home, enquiring where he was. Rogers thought that Hackett may have been by the stalls on Princess Alice Highway since they would usually drink there. However, Hackett told him he was in Nelson Street with Holder. Rogers decided then to go home where he slept the night through.
Rowe was by this time on duty at the old National Insurance Building. He said that about 9:30 p.m. which would have been about two hours after he was said to have been in Holder’s company in Nelson Street, he saw Hackett passing in front of the building located on Fairchild Street.
Rowe stopped him and gave him $40 which he had owed him from the fishing they had done the day before. Rowe said they spoke for about five minutes. He saw Hackett go over to one of the canteens in the bus terminal where he bought two cokes, two cups and a large pack of cigarettes. He then told Rowe to call him early the next day and then left to go back to the complex.
Rowe was adamant that Hackett was not intoxicated at that time. He did not smell any alcohol on Hackett. Rowe also maintained that Hackett, although a heavy drinker at times, did not drink while on fishing trips and was a very good swimmer.
George Aimey, a security guard stationed at the Bridgetown Fisheries Complex, said he saw Hackett entering the complex about 11:25 p.m. He had known Hackett for the past five years and was certain it was indeed him. Aimey further stated that Hackett appeared highly intoxicated to the extent that he was stumbling around and was generally very unsteady on his feet. Aimey last saw him walking in that manner towards the direction where his boat was docked.
Next morning about 5:45 a.m. Holder said he got up and went looking for Hackett but could not see him anywhere. He roused Prescod and asked after Hackett, but Prescod said he had not seen him since the night before.
Prescod later discovered Hackett’s cap, slippers and a bottle of coke on top the fishing vessel Lady Ingram which was moored about six feet away and next to The Night Raven. Prescod explained that to get to his boat, they usually walk on top Lady Ingram in order to get across. So he immediately thought Hackett must have fallen overboard.
Prescod then looked into the water between the boats and saw a body submerged which appeared to be Hackett’s. Prescod went to Aimey at the guard hut and told him what he had seen. Coast Guard and police were summoned.
Able-Bodied Seaman Hilroy Stoute and Ordinary Seaman Yearwood of the Coast Guard retrieved the body which was subsequently identified as Hackett. They too observed that there were a pair of slippers, a cap and a bottle of Coca Cola on top of the boat Lady Ingram.
These items were later identified as belonging to Hackett.
Prescod’s testimony, which proved to be the most crucial, indicated that the Lady Ingram was an unstable boat. Although they habitually used it as a “stepping stone” to gain access to the other boats it would usually rock when they stepped on it.
He said that the “starboard side”, the steadier side, was the one closest to The Night Raven. However, Prescod noted that Hackett’s body was on the port side which was very unsteady.
He recalled that Hackett had been thrown overboard already while stepping on the port side. On that occasion he had held onto the boat and pulled himself up. He did not need assistance to do this. However, if he was heavily intoxicated he would not have been able to save himself.
It was established by several witnesses that up to about 9:30 p.m., Hackett was sober. He did not drink anything all day, no alcohol was consumed while the group was frying fish. Thereafter he was seen to drink only one shot of rum, and for a man of his drinking propensities this could not constitute so heavy an intake to render him unstable.
He was seen by Rowe at 9:30 p.m. and he was still sober but he then left in the direction of the complex and was next seen there at 11:25 p.m. in a very drunken state. He had obviously passed by the “stalls” on Princess Alice Highway in order to get there and had seemingly stopped off at what was a favourite watering place for his preferred refreshment.
In his attempts to reboard his boat he fell overboard. The post mortem examination report indicated that Hackett died as a result of drowning.
Verdict: misadventure.