Inquest held in 2014 death of fisherman

Jury finds that West Bay man, 78, drowned while snorkeling

The Law Courts Building in downtown George Town.

A coroner’s jury this week returned a verdict of misadventure in the death of a fisherman who died while snorkeling off West Bay on Sept. 27, 2014. The jury heard evidence on Monday concerning the death of George Bernice (Burnis) Ebanks.

Mr. Ebanks, 78, of West Bay, was a former seaman, carpenter, North Sound tourist guide and community barber. In his later years, he enjoyed fishing to provide for his family and select customers.

A statement from his daughter, read by Queen’s Coroner Eileen Nervik, said that Mr. Ebanks left his home around 7 a.m. on his bicycle and with his gear. His daughter expected him to return around 10 a.m. Instead, police attended after 1 p.m. and advised that her father had died.

Government pathologist Dr. Shravana Jyoti reported that his examination of Mr. Ebanks revealed signs of recent seawater drowning. A contributing factor was a probable acute cardiac event, since two heart arteries were blocked 60 percent and 40 percent.

In answer to a juror’s question, Dr. Jyoti said Mr. Ebanks probably had a heart attack while in the water.

Witness statements indicated that Mr. Ebanks’s body was seen floating in the water off Conch Point Road. A man working on the beach realized it was a person and called for help.

His employer contacted 911. When police arrived they contacted Dr. Jyoti, who went to the scene.

Jurors were shown pictures of the area and close-ups of Mr. Ebanks. There were signs of some superficial injuries caused by brushes against rocks in the water, but no signs of any fractures or violence.

The photos showed a mask and snorkel around Mr. Ebanks’s neck.

In her summing up, the coroner explained the possible verdicts. She defined misadventure in terms of an unintended consequence of a lawful activity deliberately undertaken that then goes wrong. If Mr. Ebanks had been on land and had a heart attack, he might have survived, she said. But he was doing what he loved to do and something went wrong that resulted in his death.

Support local journalism. Subscribe to the all-access pass for the Cayman Compass.

Subscribe now