Dr. Vary Jones-Leslie was a pioneer in Jamaican medicine, a supportive mentor and a warm and caring practitioner who flew to Grand Cayman on Monday to lend a hand at the Cayman Islands Hospital.
But shortly after her arrival, the physician became a patient – the victim of a tragic accident, struck by a taxi while crossing a roadway teeming with travelers. The following morning, the 62-year-old Jamaican obstetrician-gynecologist passed away.
In her years as a locum doctor in the Women’s Health Clinic, Dr. Jones-Leslie came to know many patients and providers. She was held in the highest regard. People who knew her describe a strong, compassionate woman who blazed a trail as one of the first female doctors in Jamaica and one who offered guidance and support to the women who followed her into the field.
They speak of Dr. Jones-Leslie’s impact on her home island and overseas; of her unshakable commitment to making a difference in people’s lives. We hope the doctor’s family and friends take some small comfort in these tributes. We and our country are deeply saddened and truly sorry for their loss.
However heartfelt, words alone do not amount to an effective response. The death of Dr. Jones-Leslie, along with numerous other fatalities and serious injuries that might have been avoided, demand action to make Cayman’s roadways safer through better traffic enforcement, design and use.
We at the Compass are quite familiar with the shortcomings of Owen Roberts Drive, the scene of Monday’s deadly accident. The roadway is busy with travelers (many of whom are tired from travel, distracted or confused by new surroundings) hurrying toward their destination on foot, in cars and by taxi. Yet this particular stretch of road lacks basic safety infrastructure, such as speed bumps or crossing lights for pedestrians.
Speaking broadly, many of Grand Cayman’s roadways were not designed to handle the volume of traffic they now must accommodate. Narrow, two-lane thoroughfares – crammed with buses, bicycles, pedestrians (often pushing baby carriages or “borrowed” shopping carts), heavy trucks (including construction equipment) and motor vehicles of every description and state of dilapidation – provide fertile ground for accidents.
We wonder how some of those vehicles even pass inspection. It is not uncommon to spot rapidly moving hunks of metal with heavily tinted windows, or without functioning brake or headlights, but sporting new inspection stickers all the same.
If similar standards for inspection were administered to Cayman Airways’ 737s, there would be no limit to the outrage (or the potential carnage).
Ground crew would never allow an airplane to take off if it weren’t flight-worthy. The same principles of public safety should apply to vehicles on our roads.
Then there is the enforcement of traffic laws. We would not presume to tell police how to do their jobs, but we insist they – like all public servants – do their jobs.
Cayman laws forbid speeding, aggressive and dangerous driving, cellphone use and other risky driver behavior. But if those laws aren’t being enforced, they are of little use.
And finally, there are drivers.
Earlier this month, local Rotary clubs, government and police launched the Share the Road campaign, aimed at communicating important safety lessons with all road users – whether they are in a vehicle, on foot or riding a bicycle.
As Rotary Club of Grand Cayman President Justin Bodden told the Compass, we all have a part to play in keeping our roads safe.
Nothing we do can go back to prevent the horrible accident that cut short a life, or any past accident that has resulted in death or serious injury, but we can resolve to do better moving forward.
It is the only real consolation we can offer to the too many people who have lost loved ones on Grand Cayman’s roadways, and is the only way to help prevent future fatalities and other families’ grief.