The case of fire officer Colburn Martin came very close to being the worst dangerous driving it was possible to imagine, Justice Michael Wood said before sentencing the defendant to 18 months’ imprisonment.
Justice Wood passed the sentence on Monday after hearing details of a collision on Cayman Brac on July 2, 2016.
Crown counsel Kenneth Ferguson explained that dangerous driving is usually dealt with in the Traffic Court by a magistrate, but this case was so serious that the Crown elected to bring it up to the Grand Court. The maximum sentence, he noted, is two years’ imprisonment or a fine of up to $3,000, or both.
Mr. Martin’s offending occurred around 7 p.m. as he was driving on the south coast road in an easterly direction. A woman was driving on the same stretch of road in a westerly direction. The collision occurred when Mr. Martin’s vehicle drifted onto the wrong side of the road, into the woman’s lane, and there was a violent impact.
Mr. Ferguson said the woman’s feet were pinned down by the steering wheel and she had to be extracted by a team from the fire service. It took over an hour to free her and she was taken to Faith Hospital, then airlifted to Grand Cayman. Multiple injuries included a fractured pelvis, compound fractures of both legs, fractured ribs, a punctured lung, a badly fractured hand, and multiple scrapes resulting in scars. She underwent surgery that lasted nine hours and subsequently had two more major surgeries.
At the accident scene, Mr. Martin was asked to do a roadside breath test, which he refused. At the hospital, he refused to give a blood sample for testing. Later, he said he had refused because onlookers told him not to do the test. Police had found empty beer containers in his vehicle and there was evidence of him having purchased beer that morning, then having three beers at one restaurant and another at a bar.
Accident reconstructionists concluded that the collision was caused by Mr. Martin’s vehicle being on the wrong side of the road and excessive speed. One calculation was that the vehicle was traveling at 74 mph two and a half seconds before the impact, and 58 mph one-half second before the impact. The speed limit in the area was 40 mph.
Mr. Martin was on police bail at the time for driving under the influence of alcohol; Mr. Ferguson said that charge was later withdrawn, but did not say why.
A social inquiry report showed the defendant to be at high risk as a problem drinker. He had accepted that he was at fault for the collision, but did not accept that he was drunk at the time. Since the accident, he had continued to consume alcohol.
The report said that if he did not quit drinking, he would continue to be a risk to members of the public.
Defense attorney Neil Kumar told the court his understanding was that Mr. Martin’s insurance would cover claims up to one million dollars.
He said Mr. Martin, 26, was a fire officer and a reference letter referred to him as an exemplary employee.
Justice Wood noted that Mr. Martin had initially pleaded not guilty to dangerous driving, but guilty to careless driving. “The Crown, unsurprisingly, did not accept your pleas.” Although the guilty plea came late, the judge said he would give 25 percent discount.
The woman’s injuries were catastrophic, he noted, and both cars were write-offs.
The judge said he was heartened to know that Mr. Martin has an insurance policy that would cover the damage and medical expenses. “From the history of these proceedings, that amount is likely to be maximized because the injuries are so exhaustive, long-term and likely to be continuing,” he commented.
To this day, the victim requires 24-hour assistance, he summarized. She was now able to walk, but with a pronounced limp. “As for running again, that is a distant dream,” he quoted from the victim impact report. The woman said the accident had affected her whole life and her sister’s also because her sibling had to leave her own career and come to the Brac to care for her.
“I don’t know how long it will take me to recover, if ever,” the woman said.
Justice Wood told the defendant he would have given the maximum sentence if this case had gone to trial. With discount for plea, the term of immediate imprisonment was 18 months. There is to be a two-year period of supervision afterward and Mr. Martin will be assessed or treatment. He will be prohibited from liquor-licensed premises.
His disqualification from driving, which began in May 2017, is for three years.