A MINIBUS OPERATOR who unintentionally ran over a four year old child/ passenger but admitted he drove dangerously, has received punishment in the form of a $5000 fine, a suspended prison sentence and disqualification from holding a license for the next 10 years.
The last words Justice Brian Costtle told the 47-year-old father of three Anthony Charles before the omnibus driver walked out of the doors of the High Court last Friday, were: “Mr Charles. You will have to live with what you have done.”
Thus far, Charles has been living with the fact that he caused the death of young McKayla Abbott since April 20, 2015, the day she passed away.
The driver was 41 years old at the time, and driver of HV848, a red Toyota Hiace that plied the Georgetown- Kingstown route. At about 1:4.0pm on that day in April, Carol Abbott and her four year old daughter were standing at a junction near the Methodist Church in Georgetown, awaiting transportation.
Charles stopped the minibus for them and the mother boarded first, with the intention that the conductor would aid her daughter to board. The child was still entering the bus when the driver pulled off. The sliding door moved forward, hit McKayla, and she fell to the ground. Shouts rang out from the mother and conductor for the bus to stop, but the driver apparently did not respond immediately. By the time Charles stopped, the left rear wheel of the vehicle had run over the head of the child.
McKayla was picked up, placed in the minibus, and taken to the hospital where the four-year-old was pronounced dead.
The matter was reported to the police, and they investigated before charging the driver.
When he first entered a plea, Charles said he was “not guilty” of the charge of causing death by dangerous driving. However, after receiving legal advice from lawyer Duane Daniel, he entered a “guilty” plea this October 4.
“It impacted me a lot,” the mother said via electronic means last Friday, disclosing how the aftermath of the tragedy has affected her.
“I will think about the laugh and everything, and it’s not easy going on without her,” she revealed. She said the memories are painful. The mother also said that she relives the events in her mind.
In the year 2015 she lost three people.
“…It’s so much on me so I have to end up and go to the doctor,” she explained.
Abbott has a health problem, the nature of which she did not reveal. This issue seems to be exacerbated by stress. Her stress levels are increased when she thinks about her deceased child, and this has led to her needing surgery, she told the Judge.
God alone knows her pain, the grieving parent noted, also revealing that she has sought counselling from her pastor.
“…When I feel pain, nobody else feel the pain so I just want to get justice for my daughter please,” the mother concluded.
Although she did not say this while speaking as a witness in court, it appears that in another statement the mother expressed the wish that Charles be imprisoned for life, because she has to live with the memory of the tragedy for the rest of hers.
The defence counsel noted that it was his client’s “firm impression at the time that he moved off the van” that the child was seated.
In providing the court with background, the lawyer explained that his client, now 47 years old, has been a licensed driver since he was 26 years old, and that he got his H license when he was 30. Before the death, he had not been involved in any similar incidents and had no previous convictions.
“He left school at senior two, at age 14. He did not have the finances to attend Secondary school so he went to work as a conductor on a van,” the lawyer said.
“Eventually he got a conductor’s license. He continued to work in that capacity until he was the age of 25, whereupon he got his driver’s license. He continued being a conductor, and eventually started driving on a Sunday morning…”
“He eventually started driving during the week, and worked for years on the vehicle doing maintenance work, and eventually, with the help of his brother,” he bought a van to assist with the financial situation at home.
They worked with this omnibus before selling it in 2013, after which Charles drove an omnibus owned by a police officer.
The youngest of his children will be attending college this year, but his 64-year-old mother remains dependant on him.
“She’s often sick with stomach pains and has to attend hospital,” Daniel said.
Charles’ license has been suspended by order of the Commissioner of Police from February, 2019.
The Motor Vehicle Road Traffic act outlines a maximum sentence of seven years in prison for causing death by dangerous driving.
The court used sentencing guidelines fashioned for handling of cases of this nature, and it kept in mind four cardinal principles: retribution, deterrence, prevention, and rehabilitation.
The sentencing guidelines require the court to consider the consequences of the offence, and then the seriousness level. In this case the consequence was death of a child.
“In the case before me, this prisoner failed to have proper regard for the child who was boarding his bus. This manner of driving created a significant risk of danger to her,” Cottle listed.
All things considered, the Justice adopted a starting point of 35%, or two years and six months in prison.
Aggravating for this crime was that Charles failed to exercise proper care when driving away, and did not stop immediately. The court discerned no mitigating factors. This brought the sentence up by one year.
For Charles, his lack of a criminal record, remorse and co-operation reduced the sentence by six months.
The remaining sentence is three years in prison, which was further sliced by one third because Charles admitted guilt at the earliest opportunity.
“This prisoner was the driver of a public service vehicle. Such drivers are expected to display a higher level of skill as compared to other drivers in private vehicles. The way in which this prisoner drove that vehicle was extremely dangerous…” Cottle said.
“He did not ensure that the child had boarded, properly seated,” before driving away, and “He didn’t even allow his own conductor to get fully on board.”
The sentence of the court was a prison sentence of two years, and a fine of $5000 to be paid within 90 days of the date of sentencing.
“I have wrestled with the issue of whether the sentence should be custodial or not,” Cottle revealed. He said that the factor of most import in his decision was whether the conductor was inside the van at the time or not. If he was outside, the sentence would be custodial, and if he was inside, it would be non-custodial.
“As it turns out, the conductor was partially in and partially out,” the Justice said. The defense and prosecution had agreed that the position of the conductor had been that he had been seated, with one foot in the vehicle and his left leg on the ground. This was what had been demonstrated by the conductor.
The Judge therefore suspended the two year sentence for two years. Should Charles commits an offense punishable by more than six months in prison within the next two years, then this sentence will come crashing down on him, in addition to whatever sentence he receives for the offence committed.
The driver is further disqualified from holding a license for the next 10 years.