No criminal conviction was ever recorded in connection with a fatal collision in which a 33-year-old woman died in 2009, a Cayman Compass investigation has revealed.
Carol Romero, a Filipino national, died at a Honduras hospital on Feb. 20, 2009, a month after she was struck by a vehicle while crossing Crewe Road on foot.
The Royal Cayman Islands Police Service filed drunk driving charges – a traffic offense – in connection with the auto-pedestrian crash on Feb. 19, 2009, the day before Ms. Romero’s death, according to police records obtained under the Freedom of Information Law.
The DUI charges stated to have been filed in connection with the accident at that time were not reported to the public or the media. A March 10, 2009 news report on Ms. Romero’s death in the Cayman Compass stated the driver involved in the auto-pedestrian crash “had not been charged at press time.” Police pointed out that, at the time, RCIPS traffic officers could file traffic-related charges directly with the court without having to go to the public prosecutor for a determination.
When the matter later went to court, it was noted during proceedings that the crash victim had since passed and all that had been filed in connection with the case were DUI charges.
“It is my understanding that [the DUI suspect] appeared before the court … for the DUI and the matter was stood down by the [former] presiding Magistrate, Ms. Margaret Ramsay-Hale,” wrote RCIPS Chief Inspector Raymond Christian, responding to the open records request filed by the Compass.
On Nov. 2, 2009, nearly nine months after Ms. Romero died, the driver charged in the DUI, identified by the RCIPS as Loriann Watler, appeared before the Traffic Court and pleaded guilty to DUI, for which she was fined $300 and disqualified from driving for a year.
Mr. Christian responded to Compass questions concerning why more serious charges in connection with the fatal accident were not filed at that stage.
“It is my understanding that the DUI charge was proceeded with, to avoid it becoming statute barred, pending the receipt of the post-mortem report from Honduras, which, apparently, the [RCIPS] Traffic Department hadn’t received,” the chief inspector wrote. Statute barred proceedings are those where the time limit to pursue such proceedings, set under what is usually referred to as a statute of limitations, has expired.
The post-mortem exam Mr. Christian referred to in his response was never received by police, it appears.
Almost a year after pleading guilty to the DUI charge, police records provided to the Compass showed Loriann Watler appeared before the Traffic Court on Oct. 4, 2010, charged with driving a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol and causing death.
Those charges were filed despite the fact that the examination required from the Honduran doctor was not available.
“The [Oct. 4, 2010] matter was adjourned sine die [without a date] because no post-mortem report from the physician who performed the autopsy of [Ms. Romero] was received by the Crown,” Mr. Christian wrote.
According to the Cayman Islands Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages, Loriann Watler, the driver involved in the fatal crash, died on Feb. 9, 2012.
The Compass has spoken to several police sources who confirmed that an internal review of the department’s initial investigation into the crash that killed Ms. Romero was conducted.
The review was completed and given to Chief Superintendent John Jones by two RCIPS officers specifically assigned to the matter.
The Compass spoke with both of those officers, neither of whom is still employed with the RCIPS. Both acknowledged the existence of the internal review, but declined to say anything about it. The RCIPS response to a Freedom of Information request from the Compass does not make reference to this internal review. The Compass has filed a subsequent open records request for the document and/or its findings.
Mr. Jones left the RCIPS in 2012 and could not be reached for comment.
It was reported at the time Ms. Romero died that health insurance coverage provided by her employer was inadequate to cover expenses incurred as a result of her serious injuries.
Ms. Romero was initially taken to the Cayman Islands Hospital and later airlifted to Hospital Cemesa in Honduras with what her family members described as “critical head injuries.” She was transferred to Honduras after attempts to send her to hospitals in Florida, Jamaica and Cuba all failed.
Family members told the Compass in 2009 that Ms. Romero was showing signs of recovery at Cemesa just before her death. However, they said her insurance “ran out” and she was transferred to a public hospital in the city of San Pedro Sula, where she died Feb. 20, 2009.
Her death was a catalyst to subsequent changes in the Cayman Islands Health Insurance Law that increased amounts of coverage required by government under the Standard Health Insurance Contract for employee healthcare coverage.