Witness confirms strong currents where teen drowned

The prosecution continued its case last week against two youth workers, who are on trial for manslaughter in relation to the drowning of 14-year-old Risco Batten.

Department of Environment officer Bradley Johnson, who took the witness stand Wednesday, 22 Jan., told the jury that an area of South Sound commonly called ‘Pull and Be Damned Point’, was a dangerous area for swimmers.

“I grew up just north, not too far, from there and knew as a child that the currents were very strong,” said Johnson, while being questioned by prosecutor Richard Matthews, QC.
Matthews asked Johnson to describe the general conditions in the area that made for dangerous swimming.

“If you look at the general shape of South Sound, water flows in and around the sound,” said Johnson. “Then, it must exit through one of two areas within the channel or the main open exit.”

Batten drowned on 29 Dec. 2015 while swimming off the South Sound beach during an outing with fellow inhabitants of the Bonaventure Boys Home. He had entered the home nine days prior to his death.

Risco Batten

Defendants Michael Anthony Stewart and Larry Levers, who were employed as senior youth supervisors and youth workers at the Bonaventure Boys Home, had been tasked with supervising Batten and the other boys on a fishing trip along the ironshore near the Cayman Turtle Centre. However, bad weather led the men to relocate the trip to South Sound, where Batten drowned.

A jury of four men and three women has been told that during the incident, both men watched from shore. Levers called the police, while Stewart went to meet officers at the roadside.

On Thursday, Johnson told the jury he had been asked to identify a day when conditions matched the weather when Batten drowned and to conduct various tests. Johnson said after much discussion with the National Weather Service, they identified 3 Feb. 2017 as the day with the closest conditions.

On that day, Johnson recorded the wind speeds and directions, as well as the speed of underwater currents, at four different sites in the general location where Batten died. He found that the strength of the current increased by as much as sevenfold the further he travelled from the shore.

At the location where Batten’s body is thought to have been recovered, Johnson recorded wind speeds of 12 miles per hour, and currents at 11.3 feet deep were travelling at 0.71 centimetres (0.27 inches) per second.

“You couldn’t tell where an object would be, because the current direction varies slightly,” said Johnson. “However, the general direction is from east to west.”

The prosecution’s case against Levers and Stewart is that both men had a duty of care to each of the children. Matthews said both men failed to properly execute that duty and claimed that their failure resulted in criminal culpability.

Both men have denied the charges and the trial continues.

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