Two killed in collision nightmare
Sunday’s mass-casualty crash along the Llandovery main road in St Ann has highlighted Jamaica’s public emergency traffic crisis.
That grim warning comes from Dr Lucien Jones, vice-chair and convenor of the National Road Safety Council (NRSC).
The tragic deaths of 38-year-old Kermit Grant, of McKenzie district in Aboukir, and 56-year-old Elizabeth Palmer of Mount Pleasant, both from St Ann, and the hospitalisation of 25 others were a morbid exclamation mark of another weekend of carnage in which five fatalities were recorded.
A passer-by described the death scene as a macabre canvas of blood, bones, and bodies.
“First, I saw a lot of blood. The girl that died, she was broken up from head to toe. Her neck was broken, her hand, her foot, her wrist, everything was broken. She was frothing up on her blood … ,” said the Salem resident.
“Now the guy that was in the Hiace, he was broken from his waist down. One of his foot turned the other direction and his bones were completely broken.”
Speaking with The Gleaner on Sunday, Jones said: “We have been having a crisis for some time now. Last year, 487 people died and that is significantly more than ever been recorded since we started tracking road crashes from in the 1970s.”
In his view, this latest crash has only underscored the urgency of Jamaica’s situation. Traffic fatalities are the second leading cause of violent death locally.
Based on the police report, shortly after 8:30 a.m., a Toyota Coaster bus collided with the Toyota Hiace bus driven by Grant. Palmer was a passenger of his.
It is alleged that both vehicles failed to keep left, which resulted in the head-on collision.
Firefighters used Jaws of Life to disentangle at least one driver from the mangled wreckage.
The ages of the injured ranged between 16 and 50. At least four remain in critical condition.
Director of Elections Glasspole Brown confirmed that the Toyota Coaster involved in the accident belonged to the Electoral Office of Jamaica. Five staff members were injured, and up to press time, three were being treated for broken limbs while the other two were being assessed by medical doctors.
They had been on their way to the regional office in MoBay.
This latest crash has increased the number of road fatalities since the start of the year to 270, which represents a rise over the 266 deaths recorded for the corresponding period in 2021.
Collisions like these have continued to place a Herculean burden on local healthcare facilities already struggling with limited bed space.
CEO of St Ann’s Bay Hospital, Dennis Morgan, lamented the frequency of crashes in the parish, which contributes to delays in healthcare delivery at the facility.
“In A&E, we have about six bays that we use for assessing and treating patients, but in mass casualties, every single space is utilised.
“Just imagine, in the morning we had about 19 persons in A&E and then comes 27 persons adding to that. You can just imagine how confined the space is right now,” Morgan said in a Gleaner interview on Sunday.
Morgan revealed that under normal circumstances, the 294-bed facility operates at 20-25 per cent above capacity.
Despite commending the dedication of his staff, he shared that crash trauma cases have put “tremendous” strain on the hospital’s personnel.
“We have staff members who would have been scheduled to leave their shift and they were still here. We have staff members who have just showed up and said, ‘I am here. What do you need me to do?’” the hospital chief executive said.
Morgan’s concerns were echoed by Jones, who added that the high number of motor vehicle crashes and fatalities has placed a significant cost on the country’s healthcare system and has also led to major emotional and financial burdens for families who lose relatives during these accidents.
Jones is concerned that the gains of three decades ago are being undone in a culture of recklessness.
When the National Road Safety Council was established in 1993, the number of fatalities was in excess of 400. Crash deaths fell as low as 256 in 2012, which was the last time the country recorded fewer than 300 road fatalities.
Since then, the number of crash fatalities has skyrocketed to 424 in 2020 and a record 487 deaths in 2021.
Jones said that it would be a “disaster” if Jamaica exceeded the number of fatalities it recorded last year.
It is for that reason that the NRSC is calling for the implementation of the regulations of the Road Traffic Act. Nearly four years since its passage, it is yet to be given teeth. The regulations are being reviewed by the Senate.
“If you take three years to pass the Road Traffic Act and it has taken between January to now to get the regulations through the House and we are not there as yet, it means in terms of process, there has not been sufficient urgency,” Jones said.
He explained that without the provisions of the act coming into effect, the robustness of the country’s system of deterrence would be undermined.
Even though some progress has been made with regard to the pilot programme of the electronic signing of tickets, Jones believes that a holistic systemic overhaul is due.
That would include providing more resources to the NRSC to conduct its campaign to reduce fatalities and injuries, examining strategies to improve the safety of roadways, increasing vehicle safety, and improving the efficiency of emergency responders.