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VIDEO: Death Postponed: 'Babatunde' Witter's 'hell of a lick'

Journalist almost died after horrific Norbrook accident

BY HG HELPS Editor-at-large helpsh@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, September 02, 2012    

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This is the 27th in a series on close encounters with death by Jamaicans, some of whom are prominent members of the society.

WINSTON Witter's over 30 years in journalism and broadcasting have been characterised by sheer excitement, colour and drama.

Now 55, he has lived long enough to relate glowing tales of events in his life, but none of them come close to the horrific, life-changing accident on October 21,1998 that had the entire Jamaica praying for his survival and recovery.

The accident has left him with short-term memory loss; he even forgot that he had arranged to be interviewed on the subject, the day before.

The prominent journalist-turned-academic had departed his Acadia Drive home in search of another place to live. With traffic usually heavy in the Acadia and Constant Spring areas, Witter decided to accept a bike ride from a man he barely knew at the time, Jeffrey McGregor, to view a house in Stony Hill. The intention was to beat the traffic and head to KLAS Radio in time for his show later that day.

On the way back, his life changed.

"When we were coming back down, the rider turned onto Norbrook Road at Manor Park. We were going up on the left, and at the same time a car was coming down on the opposite side. There was a car parked on his car driver's left and before we knew it, he came right on our side and hit the two of us off the motorbike; 30 feet in the sky, I heard. It was one hell of a lick," Witter stated.

Witter and McGregor were down, and almost counted out.

"I heard that when we were lying on the ground, the people standing by called for the hearse from Madden's (Funeral Home) to come. They were waiting on the hearse, because 'dem yah man yah gone'," Witter joked, repeating what he heard the onlookers said.

"It was a Rastaman who came up on the scene and say, 'Is wha a gwaan? How oonu just sit down so wid the two man? The Rastaman said to the others, 'Go full this a water fi mi'. He took out a bottle and somebody filled it with water and he poured the water on my face and knocked it. Some rahtid knock me hear, you nuh!" Witter recalled.

When the ambulance came to take them to the University Hospital of the West Indies, Witter and his friend had still not recovered. It was, in his words, as if they had gone to a silent home. One popular radio station declared him dead in a 'breaking news' item that very day.

Movers and shakers of Jamaican society got involved to spur swift activity at the hospital. Former Government minister Pearnel Charles led the support group, and influential people like businessman Gordon "Butch" Stewart, whom Witter credits as having a lot to do with his recovery and a man he regards as his good friend, as well as then Cabinet minister Portia Simpson Miller. Witter's daughter Kadian was also there.

A few characters with 'Wild West' reputations were also said to have called the hospital, one telling a medical representative that 'Baba haffi come back alive'.

From the Accident and Emergency Department, the next stop was the Surgical Intensive Care Unit, where both remained for a few days before they regained consciousness. Soon, neurologist Dr Crandon and his team began the process of setting things straight.

After almost two months, Witter and McGregor were out of hospital, although the treatment process did not end there.

"You have a thing called dead and wake... mi come, then mi go back, mi come, then mi go back. It was an on-and-off thing," Witter said of his days of slipping in and out of consciousness.

"One day I was at the hospital and the ambulance driver who had come to take a Jewish friend of mine to another location, said to me: 'Mr Witter, a know you very much, but a fraid a you'."

"I asked, 'Why do you say that, sir?' And he said, 'Mr Witter, we were taking you from University Hospital to do an ultrasound at a place on Balmoral Avenue, with police outrider at the back and front of the ambulance'.

"He said, 'Mr Witter when a reach UTech, a feel that you gone'. So he said, 'Jesus Christ, God Almighty, I can't stop and tell the other people in the ambulance that you gone, Mr Witter. Ah pray to God. I am taking this man to this place and the man gone'. So he said he had to drive slowly, and while he was going slowly the others were wondering how the ambulance not speeding. But he was saying to himself that the ambulance was carrying a dead man. It was only after a while that I made a sound that he said, 'Jesus Christ, thank God,' and he sped up," Witter said.

"Even after I had been discharged from the hospital a man was calling out in my direction 'dead and wake'. I never answered, because my name is Winston 'Babatunde' Witter. The man said again, 'dead and wake' and me nuh answer. The man walked and hit me on my hand and said, 'dead and wake, you no see me a call you'. I said, 'Sir, I am not dead and wake. I am Winston Witter'. He said, 'Yuh nuh dead and wake? Yuh dead already and yuh come back'," added Witter.

The severe head injuries resulted in loss of memory for the likeable journalist and broadcaster who continues to do what he likes best — working in media — and currently hosts a daily talk show on BESS FM in the Corporate Area.

He could not recognise the name of the woman who was taking him home in her car. Neither could he point out definitively images like ackee and mango trees.

"I knew nothing," he said. "When the woman took me to where I was living, I didn't know the place. I didn't even know grass."

That Christmas, Witter had dinner with Charles at the politician's home, and during a discussion with another dinner invitee, a Nigerian doctor, it was suggested that he journey to the United States for further treatment with neurologists and herbal doctors. Former prime minister Edward Seaga, Witter said, also gave his thoughts on his future treatment plans, urging the former Kingston College student and University of the West Indies graduate to visit New York, instead of Miami.

"When I went to New York, I took the medical report. I saw about seven neurological doctors. I saw a special one whom my brother Leacroft took me to. Every one of them I went to was surprised. If you saw my medical report and you were a doctor you would be surprised, because I wasn't supposed to be talking like this. I was gone, gone, gone," said Witter.

"When this particular one went through the report, he was shattered, he was surprised. He said to me, the person I am talking to is not this same person ... you are a dead man, you are not alive. The person's report I saw is not you. This report is one that belongs to someone in a cemetery.

Witter, who calls himself 'Babatunde' — a Nigerian name which means 'The father has returned' — said he later went to see a herbal doctor in Manhattan, New York.

"I took the rider (McGregor) with me and we became good friends, having found out that my mother and his mother went to the same Revival Church in West Rural St Andrew.

"We also went to a sister-and-brother team of herbal doctors. I saw the sister. She put my hand on a bag of seeds for 15 minutes. When she took up the hand, she said, 'You're a child. All your organs are gone back to a child, the brain, everything. She said I needed rebuilding, and that she had the prescription.

"When I went downstairs and they packed the bags, it was a whole lot of sticks, some balls of things, and some things like they were from under the sea. They said I should have one cup three times a day. The tea bitter than gall. It bitter, it bitter, it bitter, but when you drink it, some things start come back in you brain," he said.

To help the process, each time he drank the tea Witter would recite the names of Jamaican parishes over and over again until he covered the whole island. Phase two involved remembering some of downtown Kingston's popular streets, like Church, King, and Duke streets, and landmarks like the historic Kingston Parish Church.

When he eventually went back into radio, co-hosting a night-time programme on HOT 102 FM with Pearnel Charles, Witter relied heavily on the callers to re-educate him.

"When I went back on the radio, everybody that I spoke to, I asked them where they were calling from. For example, one would say Black River, I would ask where is Black River and he would say St Elizabeth. Another one would call and say I am calling from St Mary and I would ask where is St Mary, and it goes on. I asked a lot of questions on the programme, but they did not know that the reason I am asking is to rebuild the knowledge. The callers really taught me about my country," he said.

Witter, a former reporter for the now defunct Jamaica Daily News, the Gleaner, the Jamaica Record, the Sunday Herald, and a one-time columnist for the Jamaica Observer, also taught political science, philosophy and sociology at institutions like the University of the West Indies and the Institute of Management and Production, now the University College of the Caribbean (UCC). He stopped teaching as a result of the accident, although he supervised PhD students and did research for various organisations. Now, however, he wants to get back into that groove.

As for financial compensation for the accident, nothing has yet come his way. McGregor, on the other hand, got a court award of over $9 million.

Witter, who is represented by veteran lawyer Abraham Dabdoub and his son Jalil, intends to pursue it further and is in the process of compiling the medical costs he incurred in the USA.

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