Queen’s Coroner Grace Donalds recently conducted an inquest into the death of a driver after the vehicle he was driving collided with a tree on the evening of 19 January 2005.
The incident occurred along High Rock Drive in East End. The driver was Dwight Diedrick, 22.
The jury heard that the truck caught fire and another motorist pulled Mr. Diedrick and his passenger from the vehicle.
The main witness, Mr. Raul Gonzales, said he was driving with his family on High Rock Drive around 7.30 pm.
About a half-mile into the interior, a pick-up truck passed him ‘a little bit fast’. He told his wife that truck wasn’t going far.
About two miles further, at a dangerous curve, he saw the truck in the bush. Its engine started to catch fire.
Mr. Gonzales said he parked his car and went to the truck. He saw two men inside, but they were not moving. He pulled hard on the door but it did not open. Then he went around to the other door and it opened.
He called to the men but got no answer. He tried to pull one man out, but couldn’t. He went into the truck to undo the seatbelt. Then he pulled the man out and carried him to where his car was parked, about 25 feet away.
By that time the fire was in the cab of the truck, from underneath. When he reached in to pull the second man out, he burned his hand on the seatbelt buckle. He pulled the man out and carried him back to his parked car.
The witness said he had no telephone at the time to call 911 so he turned back to the High Rock office and there he was allowed to use the phone. Police responded very fast. They all drove to the accident site, but there was too much smoke, too much fire, and the officers could not see the two men.
Mr. Gonzales explained that the men were south of the burning truck, while the office he had gone to for phoning was north of the truck. Because he had his children with him, he left the scene.
Paramedic Stephen Duval told the jury that the North Side ambulance was out of service at the time. His team received a call at George Town Hospital at 8.02pm and they arrived at the accident scene at 8.24pm. The patients had already been stabilised by a Fire Rescue officer.
Mr. Duval said Mr. Gonzales had done an amazing job in moving the two men in a timely manner. Usually people are told not to move accident victims, but because of the fire it was the right thing to do, he indicated.
A statement from the officer who examined the vehicle afterwards said the fire appeared to have started on the left side due to heat concentration.
DC Michael Caputo, trained accident reconstructionist, responded to jurors’ questions about the fire.
He said the left front of the vehicle was completely crushed in. If the battery was on that side, an electrical fire could have started when the positive wire touched the negative. That is why the Fire Department always disconnects the battery when responding to a vehicle incident, Mr. Caputo noted.
Based on tyre marks at the scene and drag factor, the truck was estimated to have been travelling at 55mph. The critical speed for that curve – the maximum at which it could be driven safely – was 53mph. The speed limit there was 30mph.
Mr. Caputo said he did not see any brake marks on the road. He did not see any report of brakes failing.
An autopsy indicated that the cause of Mr. Diedrick’s death was blunt force head trauma.
The truck was owned by Watler’s Metal Products. Managing Director Robert S. Watler Jr. told the jury that Mr. Diedrick had worked for him two to three years.
He was authorised to drive the truck during the day, but company policy was that vehicles were to be left in the compound at night and be picked up in the morning, Mr. Watler said. Only a crew from Mexico – who came to help after Hurricane Ivan in September 2004 – had permission to drive a company vehicle after hours.
Records showed that Mr. Diedrick brought workers back to the compound at the end of the workday and punched out. Instead of leaving the truck at the compound, he took it and picked up his passenger. The men went to East End to visit a relative who had just returned from Jamaica, Mr. Watler explained.
Nobody gave permission for the truck to be taken, he said.
Mr. Watler said he flew Mr. Diedrick’s mother and uncle to Cayman; the young man died three or four days later.
The passenger was flown to Jamaica via air ambulance, he added.
According to the autopsy report, Mr. Diedrick died from blunt force head trauma. The jury returned a verdict of misadventure.
The five women and two men had earlier heard evidence touching the death of Franklin Banegas, another young man killed in a traffic incident (Caymanian Compass, 10 July).
At the end of the two inquests, Mrs. Donalds observed that speeding was clearly an issue in our society. ‘We’re all road users,’ she pointed out. ‘It can impact on anyone.’
She called the deaths of the young drivers tragic and expressed condolences to their families.