The coroner’s inquest into the untimely passing of Rhonda Azan concluded on Friday, when the jury ruled unanimously that the case was a “death by misadventure.”
Ms. Azan, a 60-year-old cyclist, was struck by a vehicle in October, 2015, and died shortly after arriving at the Cayman Islands Hospital. Pathologist Shravana Jyoti testified at the inquest and stated that Ms. Azan died from multiple blunt impact traumas to the head, chest and abdomen.
The task for the jury, sitting in the court of Queen’s Coroner Eileen Nervik, was to determine the nature of Ms. Azan’s death. For two days, they heard testimony from witnesses and multiple police sources, including a pair of crime scene investigators who came to markedly different conclusions.
Ms. Azan was reportedly riding against traffic in the eastbound lane of Shamrock Road when she was struck by a Ford F-250 heading toward Bodden Town. One witness provided testimony that said they saw Ms. Azan riding along the shoulder shortly before the accident and that they feared for her safety because she was not wearing bright-colored clothing and did not have lights on her bicycle.
The accident occurred right after sunset, as the day was transitioning into night.
Another witness, a clerk at a nearby Jacques Scott liquor store, testified that Ms. Azan bought four cans of beer shortly before her accident, and the autopsy report stated that the victim had a blood-alcohol level of .78 milliliters when she was tested at the Cayman Islands Hospital. Mr. Jyoti testified that Ms. Azan’s blood-alcohol level was within the legal limit for operating a vehicle and said that her level of intoxication would not result in a critical loss of judgment.
The jury was told that the accident occurred in normal traffic conditions, just after 6:30 p.m. Paramedics attended Ms. Azan at the scene. She was declared dead at 7:28 p.m. after being taken to the hospital.
The driver of the Ford F-250 said in a statement that he did not see the cyclist until she was around 10 feet away, and the police testified that he did not brake or attempt an evasive maneuver. The driver also testified that he was talking on the phone on a hands-free device at the time of the accident.
Collin Redden, a former member of the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service who works as a vehicle collision inspector, concluded that there were no mechanical defects with the driver’s vehicle.
Mr. Redden told the court that if the truck was traveling at 30 mph, it would need 2.5 seconds and 110 feet to respond adequately. His reenactment of the crash conditions indicated that the cyclist should have been visible from 168 feet away, and in his conclusions, he stated that it was his belief that the driver was distracted or paying attention elsewhere when the accident occurred.
But Ledford Butler, an accident reconstructionist for the RCIPS, had a very different opinion. He cited Ms. Azan’s drinking and the fact that she had tied a grocery bag to the bike’s handlebars, and said those factors likely resulted in the cyclist being unable to ride straight along the shoulder.
Ms. Nervik cautioned the jury that “no one is found guilty or at fault at an inquest,” and she explained that the different conclusions reached by the police investigators would not affect their ruling.
The coroner told the members of the jury that they could only consider two rulings – an open verdict or death by misadventure – because some of the other available classifications did not apply to the case.
Death by unlawful killing, said Ms. Nervik, did not apply to this case because prior court rulings have advised that only the crimes of murder, infanticide and manslaughter can be taken into account.
The driver was cited for careless driving at the time of the accident, but Ms. Nervik said that was an infraction that could not be considered in a judgment of death by unlawful killing.
The jury, after hearing two days of testimony, made its ruling in less than an hour, and they concluded unanimously that Ms. Azan had died of misadventure.
Following the verdict, the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service confirmed to the Cayman Compass that no charges would be brought against the driver. Police spokeswoman Jacqueline Carpenter said, “The [Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions] decided not to pursue charges in that case, and it was referred for inquest instead.”