Tue | Apr 16, 2024

DEADLY RIDE

Father’s nightmare comes true as son, schoolmate die in fiery crash

Published:Wednesday | November 22, 2023 | 12:14 AMAlbert Ferguson/Gleaner Writer
The scene of the crash that claimed the life of two students along the Petersfield main road in Westmoreland on Tuesday morning.
The scene of the crash that claimed the life of two students along the Petersfield main road in Westmoreland on Tuesday morning.
A police officer directs traffic as a wrecker crew prepares to remove the charred car involved in the crash away from the scene on Tuesday morning.
A police officer directs traffic as a wrecker crew prepares to remove the charred car involved in the crash away from the scene on Tuesday morning.
Isaac McIntyre, father of 14-year-old Zackeal McIntyre.
Isaac McIntyre, father of 14-year-old Zackeal McIntyre.
Forty-seven-year-old Angella Hewitt, the mother of Ajani Robinson, one of the students who died in Tuesday’s crash along the Petersfield main road in Westmoreland.
Forty-seven-year-old Angella Hewitt, the mother of Ajani Robinson, one of the students who died in Tuesday’s crash along the Petersfield main road in Westmoreland.
Vinton Vaz, acting principal of Petersfield High School.
Vinton Vaz, acting principal of Petersfield High School.
Ajani Robinson.
Ajani Robinson.
Zackeal McIntyre.
Zackeal McIntyre.
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WESTERN BUREAU:

Worried that his son was heading in the wrong direction as concerns mounted about indiscipline, Isaac McIntyre was hoping to steer 14-year-old son Zackeal back on the right track when he took the youngster from his mother to live with him last month.

But on Tuesday morning those hopes were dashed when the Petersfield High student and his 16-year-old cousin and schoolmate, Ajani Robinson, perished in a fiery crash on their way to school.

Reports from the Whithorn police in Westmoreland are that about 6:50 a.m., the youngsters were travelling on a motorcycle along the Petersfield main road. While manoeuvring a corner, they reportedly lost control of the motorcycle, which collided with an oncoming motorcar before bursting into flames.

The boys, who both resided in Pinnock Sharfton in Darliston, Westmoreland, were taken to the hospital and died being treated.

The senior McIntyre told The Gleaner that losing his only son so tragically has come as a shock, but blamed indiscipline for his tragic demise.

“It's because of unruliness. I give him $2,000 every morning to go to school, which includes his taxi fare and his lunch,” he said. “I told him to come and live with me because I heard that he was not behaving himself [while] living with his mother, and having come, I think things would be better, but it just rough on my side now.”

The father added that to the best of his knowledge, his son does not own a motorcycle, but at times he would ride one home from school.

“When he comes home in the evenings, I kept reminding him to stop riding on that bike because I know someday I was going to hear some bad news about that bike,” said McIntyre, who recently returned from a stint on the seasonal farm work programme in Canada.

“I was expecting him to come back home, but the news came that he died in an accident where he was on a bike,” he added while fighting back tears.

“I have to just keep the faith and move on,” McIntyre said, noting that the entire family was now left grieving.

Forty-seven-year-old Angella Hewitt, the mother of Ajani Robinson, was still in shock at the loss of her twin son when she spoke with The Gleaner.

“All now I don't know what caused the accident or what happened,” said the mother of seven. “All now I can't believe because I have not seen him. They don't let me see him.”

She disclosed that Ajani's twin sister and grandmother fainted upon hearing the news of his death and had to seek medical attention.

“God know that I don't know how to cope. I don't know how mi a go cope with it,” she said as relatives consoled her.

Like McIntyre, Hewitt said her son does not own a motorbike, but she had heard that he was riding on one to school.

She told The Gleaner that she had repeatedly asked him to desist from doing so and encouraged him to take the schoolbus instead.

“I heard about it and I asked him where him get the bike that he is riding to school in the mornings and he [told] me that he is not riding any bike,” she recalled. “Mi say, 'JJ don't ride any bike to school and a this morning now I am hearing that him dead off bike going to school. ... See it there, this morning the proof come to say him a ride go school.”

Vinton Vaz, acting principal of Petersfield High School, said the institution is going through a very challenging time, having lost three fourth-form students in road accidents in less than two weeks.

Last week, 15-year-old Lavecia Forrester died in a crash that claimed five lives in Bluefields in Westmoreland.

Vaz said that the deaths of Ajani and Zackeal come on the heels of a week of prayer after Lavecia's death and about three weeks since a visit from the representatives of the island's traffic authorities, sensitising students on how to properly use the roadways and how to get their learner's permits.

“We are trying to get students the right tools to really go out and face the world and this is now happening,” he bemoaned, noting that the sessions also included a particular focus on Westmoreland and motorcycle accidents. “And it is so unfortunate that these students are now victims of the very same thing we are trying to prevent. The school continues to work with them to help them in the future.”

Vaz said that Petersfield High students are not allowed or encouraged to ride motorcycles to or from school.

“As a school, we do not condone it. They cannot park the bike on the compound or anywhere that we are aware of,” he told The Gleaner. “It is banned from Petersfield High School.”

Nevertheless, he said that several students hide and breach the rules despite being warned repeatedly.

On several occasions, he noted, the dean of discipline had to call in parents about their children breaching the rules and riding to school after they were discovered.

“It's the parents' responsibility because they are leaving the parents' home with the bikes and they can't park them here,” the acting principal said.

Transportation for students is provided by a private operator from Darliston to the school.

Vaz told The Gleaner that one of his students informed him that one of the boys had hugged her and told her that he would be travelling on the bike to school as he did not want to be standing on the bus or get squeezed if it was packed.

Classes were dismissed early on Tuesday to facilitate grief counselling as students, teachers and other members of staff were traumatised.

Education Minister Fayval Williams expressed sadness at the deaths.

“This is a tragic loss on so many levels – a loss to their family, school, community and Jamaica as whole,” she said in a statement. “I pray that with the support of the ministry's counselling team and that of the wider community, that the immediate and extended family will be able to find some comfort during this difficult time.”

Meanwhile, Jamaica Teachers' Association President Leighton Johnson said the tragedy highlights the need for the implementation of a long-called-for rural school bus system to provide safe transportation for students heading to and from school.

albert.ferguson@gleanerjm.com