Sat | Dec 14, 2019

‘The only one who didn’t treat me like trash’ - Clan Carthy student grieves best friend’s untimely death, school reeling from tragedy

Published:Wednesday | October 30, 2019 | 12:34 AMJason Cross/Gleaner Writer
Denise Howell (left) speaks with Superintendent Tomielee Chambers at Clan Carthy Primary School in Kingston yesterday. Howell was injured in Monday’s accident when a garbage truck slammed into the taxi in which she was sitting.
Denise Howell (left) speaks with Superintendent Tomielee Chambers at Clan Carthy Primary School in Kingston yesterday. Howell was injured in Monday’s accident when a garbage truck slammed into the taxi in which she was sitting.

Counsellors, educators, relatives, politicians and well-wishers journeyed to Clan Carthy Primary in Kingston yesterday to support the grieving community following Monday afternoon’s deadly freak accident at the school.

After what proved a sleepless night for many students and staff, they turned up yesterday to realise the nightmare was real. Seven-year-old Benjamin Bair was dead, the casualty of a bizarre incident in which a runaway garbage truck crashed into a taxi before pinning him down, with all efforts to free him failing.

While most of Benjamin’s grade two classmates sang and clapped during devotion, one little boy, Daryl, was inconsolable, having lost his best friend.

Bernice Beckett-Duhaney, vice-principal of Holy Rosary Primary School in Kingston, who was among a host of educators from Kingston and St Andrew showing support, went over to speak with him.

“I realised that while the others were singing, he was crying. ... He said Benjamin was ‘the only one who did not treat me like trash’. He said Benjamin was really smart, kind and helpful,” she told The Gleaner. “One of the things he said that struck me was that Benjamin asked him to buy him a Lego set to show thank you, but he said, ‘It is too late now’.”

UP ALL NIGHT

The aunt of one of Benjamin’s classmates revealed that the tragic news kept her nephew up all night.

“He was shocked. Him come and seh, ‘Aunty, mi can’t sleep’. Him come lay down beside me and we were talking until daylight,” she said.

Denise Howell, the parent who escaped with her life after the truck slammed into a parked taxi in which she was sitting and flipped it several times, also visited the school yesterday.

The tragic events unfolded as she waited for her spouse to pick up her daughter, a grade five student.

She is grateful to have survived the terrifying experience.

“I thank the Almighty. A voice said, ‘Get out of the vehicle’. By that time, part of my body was outside the vehicle and part inside. I felt an impact and was thrown on the ground,” Howell related.

She said that she cannot walk momentarily and she is nursing a chop wound above her left eye. Her feet are also bruised and swollen.

“I tried to walk with crutch sticks, but it is very pressuring,” she explained.

Yesterday morning, teams from the Ministry of Education, including Minister Karl Samuda; the Opposition; the police force; and other sympathisers flooded the schoolyard.

NO REPEAT

In the afternoon, Prime Minister Andrew Holness and his team visited the institution, assuring the administrators that apart from a police investigation, the Government would be taking steps to ensure there was no repeat of such a tragedy.

Up to yesterday evening, neither the contractor nor the driver had reported to the police, leading Superintendent Victor Hamilton, who is in charge of the East Kingston division, to appeal to them to make contact.

While a driver’s licence was found inside the truck, Hamilton could not confirm whether it belonged to the driver.

School Chairman Donald Foster told The Gleaner that the contractor was hired to do clean-up duties over the weekend after “work like bushing and weeding”. The garbage crew did not turn up until Monday evening.

“Our plan moving forward is to look at our entire physical plant layout and see how we can separate pedestrian from vehicular traffic. We will be relocating garbage receptacles to an area that the garbage truck may not have to come on campus,” Foster said.

jason.cross@gleanerjm.com