Death by neglect

Anger as beloved cop dies after his car plunged from bad road residents complained about for six years

BY RACQUEL PORTER
Observer staff reporter
porterr@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, October 04, 2017



SERGEANT Mervin Ellington lost his life Monday night when his car plunged into a river after falling from a breakaway on the Knollis to Riversdale main road that was allowed to widen despite residents' complaints and warnings of danger six years ago.

The tragedy spawned by neglect led to an angry protest yesterday by residents of the St Catherine community who again pointed to the risk the potholed, unmaintained road poses to lives.

According to the residents, the police sergeant's car was not the first to fall into the river from the road which has breakaways at four sections.

“In one month two vehicles go over there,” a livid resident shouted.

“The reason why we out here is because one of the best police lost his life because of carelessness. The road haffi block,” Jeffery Campbell said as he stood among a group of residents who watched as Sergeant Ellington's car was being pulled from the river.

Ellington, who was assigned to the St Catherine North Police Division, died Monday night in the community he once policed.

The Linstead police reported that about 9:00 pm Ellington was driving his private motor car along the road when he swerved to avoid a pothole and plunged into the river.

“Is the best police dead in the force,” Garnett Catnott said, adding that he became friends with the cop 10 years ago.

Catnott, who was one of two men who fished Ellington's body from the river, said he was heading home from Linstead approximately 10:05 pm when he saw a line of traffic and a crowd gathered along the thoroughfare.

Catnott, who is also a taxi operator, said he asked what was happening and was told that Ellington was in the car in the river.

“I took my cellular phone and keys from my pocket and dived in. I could not find him at first. Is my foot find him 'cause the water deep and dark. At one point mi feel like him hold on to my hand and I told my friend say him nuh dead. When mi tek him out him nah blow,” Catnott told the Jamaica Observer, adding that he was saddened when he later heard that the cop had died.

Another resident, Devon Brown, said he and his brother, Errol, had a conversation with Ellington in the community square before the tragedy. After the discussion, Brown's brother left with Ellington and was in the car when it plunged into the river.

Brown, who had remained in the square, said shortly after he received a phone call informing him of the tragedy. On his arrival he said he saw his brother in the water and jumped in.

“I saw Errol across the river and I asked him for Ellington. I took off my shirt and dived in the water and started to search the car. I felt his hand. I went back up to the surface for air and then and went back down. I feel and find his head. I hold him and me and Catnott pulled him out,” Brown said.

The cop's firearm was also retrieved by Brown and Catnott and was later handed over to the police.

The Observer was told that Ellington was on vacation but went to the community to visit friends and collect his car that was being repaired by a mechanic.

“Nice person, he was a good friend of mine; someone who you can reason with,” Brown said, adding that his brother is devastated and is currently receiving medical attention.

In addition to the breakaways and potholes the residents complained about the lack of street lights and the heavy foliage along the narrow thoroughfare.

“I have three children who have to pass here every day, and it worries me. This haffi deal with. This nuh need no politics. Look on the road. Look at the bushes. We a go tek it in our own hands. No more traffic cannot pass. Politician come and say dem a go fix it and it no fix. It only a get worse; a rainy season now,” Campbell said as residents agreed, adding that since the start of the year five motor vehicles have plunged into the river.

“Road wi want; over nine years it stay so. This is not the first accident, Althia Green said.

In April 2011 the Observer reported residents' concerns about the huge breakaways which they feared posed serious danger to motorists, particularly those not familiar with the narrow, winding, poorly lit, three-and-a-half-mile-long road.

One of the breakaways is just metres from Bog Walk square, in the vicinity of the Spanish Town to Linstead overpass. That section collapsed when the river that runs alongside the road swelled during the passage of Tropical Storm Nicole in 2010. At the time, large rocks were used to mark the area, which was reduced to single-lane traffic.

Residents had expressed fear that the erosion could worsen if forecasts by meteorologists held true that changing weather patterns could see the island getting more than average rainfall that season.

Yesterday, the Observer was unable to contact Member of Parliament for St Catherine North Central Natalie Neita-Headley to find out why the residents' concerns were ignored.

However, she issued a news release expressing condolence to Ellington's family and colleagues and noted the lack of attention to the the road, in particular the breakaways.

Neita-Headley said she had brought the matter to the attention of the authorities because the breakaways have been impacting commercial activities and present a danger to the commuting public, especially children.

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