Hit and run case: Lack of evidence cited in senior fire officer’s acquittal

Former Acting Fire Chief John Sidney Bodden was acquitted in January after trial on charges of careless driving and leaving the scene of the accident. Magistrate Philippa McFarlane later released her reasons for the decision, a copy of which the Cayman Compass has received.

The magistrate, in her 76-page ruling dated Feb. 14, said she was left in doubt about the identity of the motor car involved in the accident. In those circumstances, she did not need to go on to consider whether Mr. Bodden was the driver of his silver Lincoln Continental on the evening in question.

The prosecution’s case, presented by Crown counsel Eleanor Fargin, was that Mr. Bodden was the driver whose car struck two brothers, ages 14 and 20, who were on a bicycle, some time around 6:30 p.m. on Jan. 26, 2015, near Savannah Primary School.

The younger brother, who was on the bicycle seat, sustained a fractured skull, fractured hip and fractured left leg; he was hospitalized for about two weeks. The older brother, who had been sitting on the crossbar, was treated at hospital and released.

The magistrate said the difficulty the prosection faced was the quality of evidence as to what vehicle struck the brothers. In her judgment, there was insufficient evidence to satisfy her so that she was sure it was Mr. Bodden’s Lincoln. None of the witnesses actually saw the vehicle that hit the brothers, she pointed out.

With the help of an interpreter of Spanish, the older brother told the court he did not see any vehicles at the time of, or immediately before, the accident. He felt something hit the back tire of the bike and he flew off. He said he stayed on the ground for about 20 seconds. He felt dizzy, but got up to check on his brother.

After the accident, he noticed a vehicle that was stopped. It had four doors and tinted windows and long indicator lights. The vehicle was either cream color or white, he said. No one came out of the vehicle. “They were parked there for five to six seconds and they left,” he said.

A woman who lived near the accident scene gave evidence of hearing a loud noise, but could not see the source of the noise. She then saw a vehicle slowly passing, heading east, and then stopping for about 10 minutes in front of the Savannah post office. She said it was a beige four-door Lincoln Continental with tinted windows, so she could not see inside.

She said at some point she looked away, and when she looked back another vehicle had also stopped. When she saw someone on the ground and a bent bicycle wheel, she phoned 911.

The magistrate said there was insufficient evidence to satisfy her that the vehicle the brother had seen and the vehicle the woman had seen were one and the same.

The woman’s evidence was also insufficient to satisfy the magistrate that the slow moving vehicle the woman saw after the loud noise was the same vehicle she saw parked at the post office after she had left her gate “for a period of time” to get to the accident scene. Even if it was the same vehicle, the evidence was insufficient to satisfy her that this was the vehicle that struck the brothers.

An off-duty special constable who came upon the scene said he stopped, intending to offer assistance, but then saw that the person on the ground was being tended to. A woman drew his attention to a vehicle parked near the Savannah post office. He did not know the make or model, but it was a large car. He thought it was brown or gold, or a tone of both. He got the license plate number and related it to a 911 operator. The license plate belonged to Mr. Bodden’s Lincoln, the court heard.

The magistrate also referred to evidence from the investigating officer that there was another vehicle in the vicinity of the collision – a red or burgundy SUV as described by a caller to 911. There was also evidence that police at one stage were appealing for information about a light-colored sports car.

‘Failures in the investigation’

“I must emphasize that I understand the level of public interest in this case, given the alarming increase in ‘hit and run’ accidents of this type in the Cayman Islands (and often with fatal consequences), and why a decision was made by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions to charge the defendant,” the magistrate said.

“However, the criminal court is not concerned with what is ‘strongly suspected’ or what the public at large or what well-meaning witnesses feel or believe may have happened,” she pointed out.

The magistrate said the prosecution case was “undoubtedly let down by failures in the investigation to identify and follow up other appropriate lines of inquiry.” She added that it was unfortunate that the Crown did not have CCTV footage or an accident reconstruction report or even evidence from other witnesses who very possibly saw more than the brother or the woman who lived near the scene.

The investigating officer, a constable, was questioned by defense attorney Laurence Aiolfi. The officer confirmed or accepted that it was not until late May that any link between Mr. Bodden and the collision was made; that nothing was submitted for forensic testing which might compare paint samples of vehicles with the bicycle; that his traffic incident report diagram did not include where the bicycle was located, where the brothers were being assisted or where any vehicles might have been located.

The constable also acknowledged that he was being investigated by the RCIPS Professional Standards Unit and was told he would receive guidance in relation to his handling of this investigation.

Since there was no case for Mr. Bodden to answer, he did not give evidence. However, his caution statement and interview were referred to during the trial.

In a statement on May 31, 2015, Mr. Bodden said he had attended the National Heroes Day parade in George Town and had then gone to a bar in Prospect. It was dark when he decided to go home; on the way he saw a man he knew as Buju and gave him a lift because it was raining. Buju said he wanted to go check on a girl; Mr. Bodden loaned him the car. When Mr. Bodden woke up the next morning, he saw the car had been returned, but it had two dents on the hood, a cracked windscreen and a cracked front grille.

Mr. Bodden said Buju confirmed over the phone that the car had been damaged during the previous evening. Although Buju said he would pay for the damage, Mr. Bodden never saw him again and learned later that Buju had gone back to Jamaica.

In a recorded interview on June 4, 2015, Mr. Bodden said he had allowed Buju to drive the car shortly after he picked him up. Mr. Bodden said he was in the passenger seat and fell asleep, but woke when his mobile phone rang. The magistrate noted that Mr. Bodden claimed in his interview that he had “a dislike and phobia of dealing with the police following a bad experience with a senior RCIPS officer.”

Police had information that a Jamaican called Buju “comes and goes (illegally) via canoe to the Cayman Islands.” They suspected his real name, but were unable to say whether he was on the island at the time of the incident.

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1 COMMENT

  1. The magistrate in this case made some pretty poor decisions. Two boys may have permanent injuries due to Mr. Bodden What in the world is acting Fire Chief Bodden doing with an illegal driving his car. At the very least he should be charged for that. This case has the smell of rotten fish. My sympathies go to the young men injured.

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