Police emails searched over 2009 death investigation

George Town Police Station. – Photo: Taneos Ramsay

The Cayman Islands government has agreed to inspect the email accounts of two former Royal Cayman Islands Police officers in connection with an open records request seeking information on a woman’s 2009 traffic death.

A Freedom of Information request filed by the Cayman Compass seeks access to a police department internal review done following the investigation into the February 2009 death of 33-year-old Carol Romero.

The investigation into Ms. Romero’s death after an auto-pedestrian crash led to drunk driving charges against a 38-year-old suspect, but no one was convicted in connection with the death, the newspaper reported in May.

Two former RCIPS officers looked into the way the traffic death investigation was handled and presented their report to then-Chief Superintendent of Police John Jones. What action was taken in response to that internal report, if any, is not known.

The Compass spoke with both former officers. Both acknowledged the existence of the internal review, but declined to say anything about it. Police said this month that they had questioned Mr. Jones and another former officer about the internal investigation, but that neither former officer had kept copies of the report.

Apparently unable to retrieve copies of its own departmental internal review, police were granted access to Mr. Jones and former Inspector Kathy Marshall’s RCIPS email accounts, according to the police service.

As of press time, the Compass has not been informed as to whether the internal review document had been located.

2009 crash

No criminal conviction was ever recorded in connection with the collision that led to Ms. Romero’s death. Ms. 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.”

When the matter went to court later in the year, 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 Ramsey-Hale,” wrote RCIPS Chief Inspector Raymond Christian, responding to an earlier open records request on the matter filed by the Compass.

DUI charges

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.