Thursday, July 23, 2009

“Losing Control” and its subsequent victims

After reading Paolo Kernahan’s riveting commentary Trini roulett on the Guardian’s website, memories of December, 15 2008 came flooding back into my mind. This was the unfortunate day that my girlfriend’s 18 yr old sister Leecie as she was so fondly known was killed in a vehicular accident in the St. Augustine area when her boyfriend, the son of a well known local comedian, and who at the time was illegally using the priority bus route, ‘lost control’ of his vehicle and ended up in a river. I always knew my girlfriend’s reasons for disliking that clown were not a typical ‘female overreaction’. The fact of the matter is he was speeding.....there I said it, get it over and done with.

In his article Paolo made a most notable point that these idiots who drive recklessly on our nation’s road ways seem to be totally ignorant to the possible consequences of their recklessness and daredevil stunts that amuse none but their company of ignorant like minded drones. The death of Leecie had a terrible effect on my girlfriend’s family, and I was able to see firsthand the effect losing a loved one to a vehicular accident has on the affected family that is left behind to mourn their loss.

Before I share our experience I just want to comment on some points Paolo raised, for instance the issue of it being illegal to modify your vehicle’s engine without notifying the licensing department. First of all I had no idea that there was a law preventing such however now that Paolo has educated me it makes me wonder what those licensing officers get paid to do. There are hundreds of cars on our nation’s road ways, apart from the illegal neon lights, tint and license plates, are outfitted with modified engines. Too many times I’ve been stuck in traffic, only to see one of those gaudy painted hybrid hot wheels zoom by and release that ‘puff’ noise that sounds like a mechanical fart.

While I do not want to minimise or belittle in any way the fact that we are all responsible for the manner in which we use the nation’s roads, part of the problem with regard to people disregarding the laws and various road rules is the fact that the authorities are almost always virtually absent during peak hours or the late hours when these fools come out to ‘play’ on the roads. In addition to the absence of the authorities we also have the problem of non-prosecution as well as lack of sympathy by the police for the families of road fatality victims and I will get to that when sharing our experience. We always read in the newspaper or hear on the 7 pm news that a driver ‘lost control’ of his vehicle and killed this amount of people, but that’s all we ever hear. There is almost never any follow up stories of a driver being charged for manslaughter or in some cases based on the circumstances murder.

First of all I have a big problem with the term ‘lost control’! Get real T&T, it is about high time we stop using the term ‘lost control’ as a euphemism for speeding and driving like a jackass! In the United States if a person crashes and dies or kills a pedestrian in a vehicular accident due to reckless driving, very rare do you hear the investigating officer or media reporting that the person ‘lost control’. What you hear is “Mr. John Doe was speeding and driving recklessly and he killed X amount of people in the process”. After that, a couple days later you usually hear “Mr. John Doe has been charged with reckless driving and manslaughter”. But in sweet T&T we only hear of reports of vehicular accidents, we never hear about the outcome of the so called investigations being carried out by ‘PC Constable’. It cannot be that every single fatal accident in this country is due to a driver ‘losing control’, if this is the case then I would suggest customs improve their inspection of the quality of vehicles entering into this country and their road worthiness because clearly there is something in this country that is causing citizens to ‘lose control’!

If the authorities quit failing the citizens of this nation and start fervently applying the rule of law with regards to dealing with reckless drivers then that may have a positive effect on stemming the flow of speed monkeys onto the nation’s road ways. But getting the authorities to do something in this country about something that is clearly affecting the lives of citizens is like pulling teeth, did someone say breathalyzer? As to our experience of losing someone we loved dearly and in such a tragic way, it certainly takes a toll on the emotional bank account. It was December, 14 2008, the night before my girlfriend’s birthday. Being the nocturnal creatures that we are, we stayed up late planning for her special day, mall visit, lunch, some dinner and anything else she wanted to do. It was supposed to be her time, a grand time. What I’m about to disclose would probably make the hair at the back of your neck raise because it certainly raised mine when it was revealed to me.

My girlfriend and I do not follow any particular religion, but it is a topic we discuss between ourselves often. So there we were at three in the morning discussing religion, our likes and dislikes when the topic veered into the direction about what happens to us when we die and how we both feel about the issue, the thought of not knowing what really happens despite what many religions ‘claim’. Little did we know that later during the day we would be told the accident in which her sister died happened around three am. So we can safely say that at about the same time we were discussing what happens to us when we die, her sister was pinned in the car catching her few glimpses of a world she will cease to be part of. To this day I have never asked my girlfriend if she believes she talked her sister’s death into reality. I do not think this the case, but I wonder if she may secretly believe this to be the case and may be blaming herself. Sorrow has an uncanny way of transforming itself into guilt. But I’m afraid to ask because maybe she doesn’t think she talked her sister’s death into reality and if I do ask maybe then she will think it.

I was still in deep sleep at 6:30 am after having a night full of unadulterated conversation with the one I love most when her phone rings. I do not hear the ring because I’m knocked out completely, however another sound wakes me and scares the living hell out of me. It is a sound I’ve never ever heard before. It is the kind of sound you expect to hear emanating from some perverse super natural 3D reality with no light and gravity, a sound so dismal and engulfed in agony and despair that it commands the full attention of all five senses. I sprang up out of sleep my eyes adjusting to the figure on the bed, my girlfriend sitting with her phone in her hand and then it happens I hear the sound again. Only this time knocked out of my sleepy unconsciousness, I realise that the sound is emanating from my girlfriend’s mouth. At this point in time I do not recognise her I do not recognise her voice. I swear that sound, that melancholic moan that comes not from the voice box, but from the depths of one’s soul, it is unnerving! It is a sound I hope I never have to hear again in the near future. That my friend is the sound of losing a loved one.

This sound that is foreign to what we know as human renders you helpless. I can’t recall prior to December, 15 2008 ever feeling that measure of helplessness. I held her, I whispered words of comfort but how do those words compete for attention and value against the information still being relayed to her by the person on the other end of the phone line? Then came the trauma of viewing the body, Leecie....oh poor Leecie. Scraped scalp, broken arms, broken legs it was such a ghastly sight! I think this was the point in my life I fully understood the saying that the body is but a ‘vessel’. The ‘we’ that makes us ‘us’ is something intangible. The body without ‘us’ is nothing, even if the person is as young and vibrant as an 18 year old, they look so different in death. And your mind battles with a contradiction that the person is sleeping but you can’t wake them. Her body.....so cold.....her limbs so limp. My girlfriend, her mother....they couldn’t stop touching her face. Her baby sister, she begins to talk to her, she begins to ask why.......why did she leave without giving her the opportunity to say how much she loves her.....she starts to brush her hair and kiss her forehead much to the displeasure of the funeral home’s staff member.

After viewing the body we were instructed that the body was to be moved to that place in St. James where the autopsies are performed. This is where we get to experience firsthand the unsympathetic, unprofessional service of Trinidad and Tobago’s Police Service. After waiting for more than an hour for the police to arrive to give the authorisation for the body to be moved, my girlfriend decides to call the investigating officer at the St. Joseph police station to inform him that we were waiting on them so the body can be moved. The officer was highly annoyed that she called to question when they would arrive and begins to berate her, “Who you tink you iz, wha appen yuh cyah wait ah wha”! My girlfriend shocked by this response replies in a shaky voice “Do you know who you’re speaking to officer? You’re speaking to a young woman who just lost her sister in a vehicular accident”. Un-swayed he replies in the same aggressive tone “So wha happen to that, you cyah wait” and hangs up the phone on her. This was the impeccable service offered to my girlfriend by the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service on her birthday, the day her baby sister died.

She looked even more different than lying on the table in that funeral home on the day the accident happened. This is the day we bury her. This is the first time in my life I helped lift a coffin out of a hearse and yes it is true what they say about the dead being heavy, even when they are small built and short like sweet Leecie. The coffin is taken into the church and opened. This is where the women began to cry, my eyes start to water but I hold them steady. Then my girlfriend lurches forward, she starts to brush her hair, scrutinising the makeup on her face, brushing her hair over and over. This is where I give her that one moment with her sister and I retreat to my seat to attend to my own uncontrollable tears, my older brother next to me almost competing. Because of the damage done to her by the accident only half of the coffin was opened and the funeral home had to apply a lot of makeup.

At the cemetery the scene was no different, the sun beastly hot, it was the one day I felt so cold under the merciless heat of the sun. Her father commences the covering of the coffin, that dreadful sound when the first batch of dirt hits the coffin...’thud’ followed by more dirt ‘thud’ ‘thud’ thud’. And there was her little nephew, always a talker blurts out “Mommy why don’t they open that box and tell Leecie to come out”! I left out many details from the time of the accident to the funeral in terms of the sleepless nights myself and my girlfriend had, the two younger sisters were distraught and her nephews were in a stage of nostalgia being 7 and 5, too young to fully comprehend what was happening around them during this sad period. I do remember the days before the funeral the 5 yr old kept asking when is aunty Leecie going to come home.

I think another painful part for my girlfriend, even though she did not particularly like him was the fact that Leecie’s boyfriend did not attend her funeral after he caused her death. It was a matter of principle! His father did attend though, but that in no way equates to reparation. The days after the funeral was very trying, the older ones kept reminiscing. But one of the younger sisters kept blocking her ears whenever the adults began to talk about Leecie, she could not deal with it. She did not want to forget Leecie, but forget what happened to her.

Six months after Leecie’s funeral I would still get calls at 2 am in the morning, my girlfriend on the other end crying. She couldn’t sleep and she started to remember Leecie. And so it has affected the other family members in other ways. Up to this day we have not heard from the ‘investigating officer’ in terms of what was the conclusion of his investigation. The young man responsible for my girlfriend’s sister is already back on the nation’s roadways, and has not been charged for reckless driving. As a matter of fact he has not even been charged for using the priority bus route illegally. Whether this is due to him being a member of the Trinidad and Tobago Defence I do not know, but Leecie is gone...she was taken away from us and no one has been held accountable for her loss. This was our experience of losing someone we loved to the vehicular carnage that exists on the roads of T&T. I’m sure many people can attest to the horrible days that family members of road fatalities have to endure before and after their funeral. As Paolo indicated in closing what are those who are left behind not only in T&T, but left behind in this world to do but apparently wait our turn or keep our fingers crossed that we do not end up as a statistic.©

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Finger Licking Good!!!!

Finger Licking Good!!!!
A moment every Trini could relate to :-)
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