A Coroner’s Jury determined that Chadwick Wood, 18, died by misadventure after hearing that his car had been travelling at 96 mph when it went into a curve on the Linford Pierson Highway.
The jury heard evidence over three days last week during an inquest conducted by Queen’s Coroner Margaret Ramsay-Hale.
Chadwick was involved in a collision that occurred shortly before 4am on 5 March, 2005. His injuries included a fractured spine and severed spinal cord, further complicated by massive blood loss..
Attorney Samuel Jackson attended the inquest and questioned witnesses on behalf of Chadwick’s family.
None of the witnesses saw the collision between Chadwick’s Honda Integra and a Ford Taurus. They gave evidence about events occurring beforehand or observations at the scene afterward.
In her instructions to the jury, the coroner said that an inquest is not a trial but an inquiry to establish the truth of what had happened.
It appeared to her that the correct verdict was misadventure, but if jurors were unable to arrive at that conclusion after considering the evidence, they could return an open verdict.
Mr. Jackson had suggested different scenarios to some of the witnesses, but the evidence was the answers received and not the suggestions, the coroner instructed. ‘You are the sole finders of fact,’ she told jurors. ‘You are free to reject opinion, but you are not free to speculate.’
Explaining the standard of proof, she said jurors must find a verdict on a balance of probabilities: that it was more likely than not that the deceased met his death in a particular way.
The evidence of accident reconstructionist Vincent Walters was that the maximum speed at which the curve could have been driven safely was 91 mph. He estimated Chadwick’s speed of 96 mph from yaw marks left on the road surface by the tyres of the Honda.
Mr. Walters said his conclusion was that the Honda entered the slight bend at an excessive speed and then started to sideslip. When the driver realised he was on the incorrect side of the road, he tried to get on the correct side while still accelerating and this caused the vehicle to rotate counter-clockwise.
The collision was between the front of the Taurus and the driver’s side of the Honda. The Honda was not in its correct lane at that point; the Taurus was in its correct lane.
The collision occurred about 200 feet east of the junction with Agnes Way.
Mr. Jackson asked if the accident might have taken place because another car hit Chadwick’s Honda from the rear. Mr. Walters said if the Honda had been hit with sufficient force to cause Chadwick to lose control, there would definitely have been scuff marks on the road that would have been readily ascertainable.
Further, at that speed, the Honda would have rolled over, Mr. Walters said.
A very light touch might not leave a mark, but it would not cause a car to spin out, either.
Mr. Jackson had suggested another scenario – that the Honda was at a standstill and the Taurus was speeding toward it and hit it. Mr. Walters had said the debris from the point of impact would be in a different place if this were so.
A passenger in the Taurus told the court that he had been drinking that night and was asleep in the car. He awakened briefly when the driver asked him for a cigarette, so he recalled seeing Jose’s gas station. Then he dozed off. He felt the car turn, apparently to get onto the Linford Pierson Highway from Agnes Way. The next thing he remembered was walking up at the emergency ward of the hospital.
The driver of the Taurus did not attend the inquest. The court was told that he was out of the jurisdiction.
The police officer who investigated the accident said there was no evidence of speed on the part of the Taurus. He said this driver had been badly injured. He was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol after his blood test showed a reading of .170. The legal limit is .100.
Questioned by Mr. Jackson, the officer said there was no physical evidence of a third car at the scene. He did get a report from a man who came upon the accident. That witness said he saw the brake lights of a car that was stopped 200 or 300 yards away. Somebody was hopping towards the car, then got in and the car drove away.
The witness could not say what kind of car it was or whether the person hopping was a man or a woman, but he thought it was someone going to the hospital.
The officer acknowledged that he had made a mistake by not collecting the rear bumper which had become detached from the Honda.
Mr. Jackson also asked the officer if a report had not been filed against Chadwick’s girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend.. The officer recalled a report logged for future reference, not for formal investigation.
The young man concerned came to court and gave evidence of an incident that had occurred in December 2004 or January 2005. He agreed he went to the police station and a sergeant spoke to him, but he denied being warned.
Questioned by the coroner, he denied trying to run Chadwick off the road in that incident. He said he was chasing Chadwick, but couldn’t keep up with him because Chadwick had the faster car.
Then in February, he saw Chadwick and his brother at a Mardi Gras party. He bought Chadwick a drink. ‘We talked and dropped our beef.’ That was the last time he saw Chadwick or spoke to him.