Teens’ deaths ruled misadventure

A coroner’s jury ruled the deaths of two teenage cousins killed in a high-speed traffic accident as death by misadventure.

Cody Jonassi McLaughlin, 18, and his cousin Abishai Zilin Watson, 19, both died in the one-vehicle crash by Public Beach on West Bay Road on 20 December ,2006 after their car smashed into a concrete column on the wrong side of the road, the coroner’s court heard.

McLaughlin was driving the car – a green Honda Civic – with Watson as his passenger.

A toxicology report showed both had consumed alcohol at a level above the legal driving limit. McLaughlin had .15 per cent alcohol in his bloodstream, while Watson had .12 per cent. Levels of alcohol higher than .1 per cent in the blood are considered to be above the legal limit for driving, Queen’s Coroner Nova Hall said.

No trace of drugs was detected in their bloodstream, the toxicology report showed.

During the inquest held on Friday, 28 November, the coroner read a statement from Simon Marshall, food and beverage manager at the Courtyard Marriott, in which he said he had stepped outside the hotel for a cigarette about 10.45pm on 20 December, and saw two cars travelling south along West Bay Road at a speed he estimated to be between 63 and 70 miles an hour.

In his statement, he said the leading car was a green, four-door Honda Civic and the second vehicle was a jeep with one occupant of heavy to medium build wearing a baseball cap. ‘About 30 seconds later, I heard a loud noise coming from the south direction,’ he said.

Another witness, Debra Wilson said she had been driving in the direction of West Bay when she encountered the two cars as she reached Christopher Columbus condominiums on West Bay Road. ‘I saw two vehicles coming towards me, in and out of traffic at high speed. Shortly after, both vehicles pulled out to the right lane, heading towards George Town in my path. At this point, I saw both vehicles coming towards me and I pulled over further to my left onto the gravel to give both vehicles way.

‘Both vehicles passed me so quickly, I did not see the colour they were or who was driving the vehicles,’ Mrs. Wilson said.

Oneil Robinson told the court that he was in his car with his girlfriend on Public Beach around 11pm, when he heard the sound of screeching tyres and saw a car flip through the air and land on its wheels.

He called 911 as he went toward the crashed car and noticed a red vehicle on the road, facing toward West Bay. ‘I’m not sure if it was on the road before the accident happened or if it was the one that caused the accident,’ he said.

On reaching the Honda, he shouted hello to the two occupants but got no response. He said police arrived about five to 10 minutes later, followed soon after by an ambulance.

Mr. Robinson said he was not aware of what happened to the red vehicle because his attention was focused on the accident victims.

He said he realised that the object into which the car had crashed was a concrete column which was lying about 20 feet from the vehicle.

The court heard that the roof of the Honda had to be cut off so rescuers could gain access to the victims.

Witness Richard Alexander Bernard II told the court he was driving toward George Town along West Bay when he noticed two cars coming up behind him in his rear view mirror and could hear engines revving.

The vehicle immediately behind him was a red Geo Tracker, driven by a light-complexioned man, which overtook him. The Honda then also moved into the right lane and tried to overtake the red vehicle, said Mr. Bernard, a draughtsman with the Public Works Department.

‘When the two vehicles overtook my vehicle, they were travelling at 60 to 70 miles per hour because I was travelling at 40 to 42 miles per hour.’

He said he was unable to identify the driver of the red jeep, but could identify the red Geo Tracker jeep with a dirty white soft top, if he saw it again.

As he neared the Courtyard Marriott, he saw a cloud of smoke as the Honda hit the concrete column and then the vehicle flipped three times through the air, during which time he could still hear its engine revving, he said.

He said the car landed on its roof and then flipped over onto its four wheels.

He told the court that the jeep was nearer the central dividing line, making it difficult for the Honda to move back into the left lane.

‘As the green car tried to speed up, the red one would also accelerate,’ he said.

Mr. Bernard said he could then see the lights of a car approaching from George Town, and the driver of the Honda tried to avoid that vehicle by pulling in towards the beach, but lost control and the car’s passenger side hit the concrete pillar.

The court heard that just two days before the fatal accident, McLaughlin’s father Doorly had taken the car to be licensed and inspected.

Both victims were taken to George Town Hospital and pronounced dead following the accident, the court heard. The pathologist’s report found the cause of McLaughlin’s death was blunt head and chest trauma, while Watson had died from multiple blunt injuries.

Findings by police accident re-constructionist Constable Michael Caputo were presented to jurors by the coroner, who said she was presenting it in the interests of completeness. She pointed out that Mr. Caputo was no longer considered an expert witness following an earlier pronouncement in Grand Court by Chief Justice Anthony Smellie.

In Mr. Caputo’s statement, he concluded that the vehicle had been travelling at a speed in excess of 95 miles per hour.

Asked by lawyer Clyde Allen, appearing on behalf of Kathleen Watson, mother of Abishai Zilin Watson, whether the police reports showed what had happened to the red jeep, the coroner told him that none of the documents before the court indicated it had been located.

Examining the police report, she said: ‘At some point in the investigation, a red Geo Tracker was stopped on the road but was ruled out.’

The seven jurors unanimously returned a verdict of death by misadventure.

Recording the death by misadventure, the coroner said she could see no other conclusion the jury could have reached within the current scope of the coroner’s law.