Sunday 15 September, 2019

'Heartbroken' cop urges rural bus system after deadly Portland crash

Jasti Kumar

Jasti Kumar

A senior police officer in Portland is calling on the authorities to implement a rural school bus system in the eastern section of the island.

The policeman, who asked that his identity be withheld, made the call following Monday's deadly bus crash in the parish involving students of the Port Antonio Antonio and Titchfield High Schools. A 13-year-old student, Jasti Kumar of the Titchfield High School in Port Antonio, was killed in the accident.

"When I got those photographs (of the crash scene) yesterday, it tore me apart inside, because our school children often don't have a choice when taking these buses, because if they don't lap up, they won't get to school or reach home in the evenings," the policeman told Loop News.

"We need a rural bus system now, and not only in Portland... but even in St Mary and St Thomas, they pack up the students like sardines," the senior cop said.

The driver of the Toyota Hiace minibus, which overturned into a gully resulting in the death of Kumar and the injuring of 23 other students in the Black Hill community of Portland, has been warned for prosecution. 

The driver, who faces the likelihood of being slapped with several charges including causing death by dangerous driving, remains hospitalised with injuries he received in the crash. 

The bus conductor, along with an adult female passenger, also remain hospitalised at this time. 

Police sources revealed that at least five of the injured students were admitted at the Annotto Bay Hospital in the neighbouring parish of St Mary, while several others were medically examined. 

Police reports into the crash are that sometime after 3:00 pm, the driver of the bus was transporting students of the Titchfield and Port Antonio high schools, from Port Antonio to Buff Bay, when he overtook a vehicle on the Black Hill main road.

The driver then failed to negotiate a corner and later lost control of the vehicle, which plunged some 70 feet below into the gully. 

The 24 injured students, along with the bus driver, conductor and a woman, were rushed to the hospital, where young Kumar was pronounced dead.

Meanwhile, lawmen close to the investigation also indicated that the minibus driver was ticketed approximately two weeks ago for having excess passengers in the vehicle. In that case, a total of 31 passengers, including 27 students, three adult males and the bus conductor, were in the vehicle. 

According to the senior member of the Jamaica Constabulary Force, who has served over 25 years in the force, the bus drivers, despite being ticketed for excess passengers, circumvent the law and continue to transport as much passengers, especially students, in one trip.

"The bus drivers argue school children are slim and their money can't buy gas so they have to carry as much as possible, but we try to talk to them to desist from their unlawful acts and we ticket them as much as the law enforces us to do... But the thing is, they pay the fines and that is it; back to square one with the cat and mouse game," the lawman argued. 

He opined that the relevant authorities must seriously examine the implementation of a rural bus system for school children to ensure they have a safe means of travelling to their destinations.

"The children of Jamaica are at risk with these crazy drivers, but many of them (the students) have no choice, but to take the over packed buses and taxis because, if they don't, they won't get home. If you start clamp down hard on these transport operators, they start refusing to carry the students, because they say their money small," the lawman argued.

He added: "So those in government, who have access to funds, should get some buses on the road specifically for school children to transport them, because if they don't, the situation will continue to get from bad to worse with the careless driving and over packing and lapping up of school children. We need to protect our children not only from gunmen, sex predators and abusive parents, but from these crazy bus and taxi drivers who don't care about anything but making money."

In September of 2017, the Ministry of Education rolled out a pilot Rural Bus Transport System through a special partnership with the Ministry of Transport and Mining. The system targeted the transportation of students of the Programme Throygh Health and Education (PATH). 

At a JIS 'Think Tank' held prior to the launch in August of 2017, the Education ministry said 91 primary and secondary schools in eight parishes across the island would benefit from the pilot phase. 

The eastern parishes of Portland, St Thomas and St Mary were to benefit from the rural bus system for only students on the PATH programme, along with the parishes of Clarendon, Manchester, St Elizabeth, St James and Hanover. 

Meanwhile, the police will proceed to collect statements from those involved in Monday's bus crash as their probe intensifies.

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