Lawyer wants drivers to get custodial sentence to ‘arrest van culture’
Jason Burnett
From the Courts, News
April 12, 2024

Lawyer wants drivers to get custodial sentence to ‘arrest van culture’

A lawyer has made a call to “arrest the van culture” by imposing custodial sentences rather than fines on omnibus drivers when they appear before the court for traffic offences. Grant Connell, who was appearing in court on behalf of Jason Burnett of Chauncey, made the suggestion on Wednesday, April 10, 2024.

Burnett appeared at the Kingstown Magistrate’s Court before Senior Magistrate Tammika DaSilva on Wednesday, April 10, where he pleaded guilty that on February 2, 2024 at the Layou public road he drove motor vehicle H 5723 in a manner that is deemed dangerous to the public.

According the facts read in court, the vehicle was travelling along the Layou public road occupying the right side of the road instead of the left side. The police took Burnett and the omnibus into custody. Burnett admitted to having gotten carried away and said he was hustling. At the time of the offence, the bus was carrying 18 passengers.

As a result, Burnett was charged and his driver’s license was suspended by the Acting Commissioner of Police, Enville Williams, pending the outcome of the matter. A video of Burnett driving the van in the stated manner was captured and posted to social media.

Station Sergeant Kenny Jones argued that “People’s lives are at risk when persons are not being responsible when driving”.

He quoted a section in law and said in his judgement, a $1500 fine is an adequate sanction for this offence.

Connell said it was the first time that Burnett was going before the court for an offence of this nature in his 20 years of driving.

“The person you see before you is a human being, a spiritual being with a human experience…nobody in this court is perfect. He made an error,” Connell said, while adding that the police “went wrong” in handling the matter.

He said that the police placed the first hearing for this matter months after Burnett admitted his guilt at the inception, “so they become judge, jury and executioner,” Connell remarked, adding that he asked that the matter be heard before Senior Magistrate DaSilva.

Connell said that Burnett had expressed great remorse for his actions and felt the calculation of Station Sergeant Jones was “a little bit too high.”

Connell admitted that he and his family have been subjected to the ignorance of van drivers.

“The van culture has to be arrested, full stop,” he remarked.

“When van men come before this court charged under this section, I think it more appropriate and a balancing act that this honourable court must carry out is to look at the antecedents and the person, the van man that is before you and that is what will trigger the suspended sentence. So someone like him, innocent thus far, would justify a suspended sentence,” Connell told the court.

He said a suspended sentence would prevent drivers from overtaking six vans, and if they do, “straight jail.”

Connell continued that a van can be just as lethal as a firearm because whereas a .38 can kill up to five people, a van driver can cause the death of 18 passengers.

He then asked that a custodial sentence be imposed on Burnett and that it be suspended for three months.

He said as well that the music that van drivers play causes students to enter their school singing these types of songs that trigger a negative behaviour pattern.

“It’s either we’re going to arrest the van culture or we’re not. Who want to talk, talk but bear the consequences.”

Senior Magistrate DaSilva said that the guidelines also suggest that both a suspended custodial sentence and a fine can be imposed.

“The fact that there is a custodial the fine, I humbly submit, should reflect a lower bracket because it is hinged to a custodial, and because of his track record, his custodial is suspended. I have no issue with both.”

DaSilva started the sentencing with a $2,100 fine. She considered Burnett’s remorse, that he has six children, no previous convictions, his suspension, and the business of the street at the time of the offence.

She then imposed a fine of $1,400 to be paid in three months in default of which Burnett will spend three months in prison. He also received a custodial sentence of one month in prison. However that sentence was suspended for three months. His driver’s permit was also reinstated.