George Phang stays strong after taking 19 shots
Businessman credits God for being alive
This is the 34th in an award-winning series of close encounters with death by Jamaicans, some of whom are in prominent positions of the society.
HIS friends call him Pepper — a name pinned on him by the late Reggae superstar Bob Marley — due to his love for the spice.
Like the fiery, yet popular Scotch Bonnet variety, George Phang's life has been simply hot, hot, hot.
Remarkable, it is, for any man to receive 19 shots in a single incident and remain alive.
Phang agrees with that. He insists that he is surviving off a special gift from God, which explains why he is still around to relate the events of Thursday, March 13, 2003.
Phang, a music producer and racehorse owner, had just left another training session of the Arnett Gardens Football Club and stopped, along with former Jamaica footballer Walter 'Blacka' Boyd, at premises on the corner of Septimus and Thompson streets in Jones Town to play dominoes.
"While playing, I looked up and see a white car drive up and when I hold up my head, it was like when you light starlight — pure fire coming from the car and I realise that it was me getting shot," said Phang.
The first set of shots badly damaged his right hand, leaving a huge hole in it, which had to be reconstructed during surgery, with tissues from his foot.
"When I dropped on the ground, I had to use my foot and turn over the domino table so that the gunmen couldn't get a direct aim on me. I managed to reach my firearm and started to fire at them with my weaker hand, the left hand, but when the thing ended I got 19 bullets — six in my belly and the rest in my arm, leg, foot and shoulder," Phang stated.
"From the shots start firing and me get shot I know that these men came for me, so it's like when I dropped I couldn't get up, because my foot broke and it was like it turned around. The only thing was to lie on the ground and fire with my left hand," he said.
"At one time, a man was at the back of the car and when I saw him come out, I said to myself this is it now. If he comes out and stands over me I would be dead, so that's when I started firing, until him go back in the car and the police found the car somewhere in the Cross Roads area with blood in it, so it seems like someone from the car got shot. I knew that I had to defend myself or else I would be out," Phang said.
When the smoke cleared, Phang found out that his friend, Mark Manning, was also shot and lying on the cold ground.
Both men were taken to the Kingston Public Hospital where doctors worked feverishly to save Phang. Manning's injuries were minor.
One bullet lodged in the region of Phang's chest and the doctors had to cut under his left arm and run a hose through to the upper chest.
What to do with his badly damaged right hand was one of the decisions that the doctors had to make.
"It was the AK that mashed up my hand," said Phang. "When I was at 'Public', they wanted to take off my hand, they even marked it to be cut off, but it was Omar (Davies) who told the doctors no and urged them to find a way to keep it. Omar hardly left my bedside.
"I also got good support in the crisis from Peter Phillips and Sista P (Portia Simpson Miller)," Phang revealed.
Consultant emergency medicine physician Dr Romayne Edwards, who was then an intern based at the Spanish Town Hospital, but who had accompanied prisoners to the KPH's emergency room, admitted to being overwhelmed by Phang's show of courage.
"A lot of people — like high-ranking police officers, spectators, friends, family members, well-wishers, and people crying — came in at once when he was taken to the resuscitation cubicle. It fascinated me. He was more concerned about the people invading the department and impeding the staff from carrying out their work, than about his condition," Dr Edwards said.
"It was like grand market affair at KPH. It was the first time I saw so many people at KPH. On his sick bed, he had to be calming all the people and telling them that everything was going to be allright," Dr Edwards said.
He confirmed that he remained confident throughout the ordeal.
"I can recall when I was in the hospital some doctors saying to me things like 'George, you allright? You know where you are?' One of the doctors said to me, 'You know that is 19 shots you get?'
"But I remained focused same way and I knew everything that was going on around me until they took me to theatre when I didn't know what was going on. When I came out of theatre, one of the doctors said, 'George, is not we save you, you know. We only did what we had to do as doctors, because you got six bullets in your belly and nothing inside of you damaged'.
"They said that it was God Himself who saved me and I know it too, because to the amount of shots that I get and I was still conscious, I could only say God was in the midst," said Phang.
"It was God who made it possible for me to survive, because I have friends who get shot in their hands and feet and died, and I get 19 bullets. I have three pieces of iron now in my leg, the way my foot was mashed up; because it was a rifle that lick my foot and when I looked at the X-ray, the main bone in my left leg burst in two," he said.
"The area was tense, so I had to be calling men and telling them that I was going to be allright and I don't want any retaliation. I tell them to let me bear my pressure," he said.
After spending days at the KPH, Phang left for further treatment, lasting three days, in the Socialist Caribbean island of Cuba, accompanied by Dr Lloyd Brooks and police officer Hector 'Bingy' White.
Upon his return to Jamaica, he checked in at the Tony Thwaites Wing of the University Hospital of the West Indies for two weeks, all the time saluting the rehabilitation efforts of doctors Brooks, Ian Neil, Winston Davidson, and the dreadlocked Carlton 'Pee Wee' Fraser.
Approaching the 10th anniversary of the night that he will never forget, Phang, though taken by surprise that he could be attacked in virtually his own backyard, has expelled most of the bitter feelings that engulfed him after the attack.
"When I was lying on the ground, I never had the slightest idea that something like that could happen, because me and no one have any trouble," he said.
"I try to live good with everyone, so that was like a surprise to me how something like that happened. I really never believe that that would go on.
"Somebody took out a hit on me. At that time I was bitter, I have forgiven them now, but I can't forget it. Me no vex with nobody, because if you have bitterness in your heart, that bitterness can cause you stroke, and other things, so you just have to free up yourself and know that you can forgive. A whole heap of my friends them dead — a lot of them would love to have one foot or one hand and still be here, so I give thanks for life. I am not bitter against anyone," he emphasised.
The incident nonetheless created tension and unease in the South St Andrew constituency.
Questions were being asked and fingers pointed at possible masterminds. The police arrested one man, he was granted bail, but absconded and has not been seen or heard from since.
Rumour has it that two of the other men alleged to have been involved died in other violent confrontations in unrelated clashes outside of Arnett Gardens.
Three of the men were said to be from the Craig Town section of the constituency, and the other from Tivoli Gardens, but he later moved to Craig Town.
The 2003 incident was not Phang's first brush with the business end of a gun.
Apart from being shot in the foot at a dance in Papine during the 1980s; in November 1976, he was shot four times at a house along Crooks Street, Jones Town — an attack that left three of his friends dead and another injured.
Political violence was at the root of the second incident, as tension rose between the PNP stronghold of Arnett Gardens and a pocket of difference in an area known then as Rema 13, part of the Jamaica Labour Party enclave of Wilton Gardens.
"I was in the PNP community office and the men invaded the place and it was pure shots. My friends Morgan, Ratta and Blacka died on the spot and another youth named Rafley got three shots," said Phang. "We were in the office at night and the men came in on us. It was sudden. I was shot in my foot and shoulder."
Phang loves to ride fast, high-powered motorbikes, and that affection almost converted into a tricky situation even before the major shooting incident, but, again, the creator smiled at him.
"One time I was going to a political meeting in Manchester, going about 100 (miles per hour) on a CBR 750 on the highway in Clarendon and a cow come out on me. When I saw the cow the only thing I could do was hold the handle straight and say this is it," he related.
"The bike went straight through the cow's belly, cutting it out, because if I hit him in the head, the horn would have bored me up.
"The cow died and the only thing happened to me was a broken hand. The doctors was asking how me so lucky to hit a cow and live, because a policeman hit a cow the week before and died," he said.
"What was amazing was as the cow get knocked down, people just appeared from nowhere and started to cut off the cow head, foot and other parts," Phang said, recalling that he skated for several metres but did not get a scrape, a sight that marvelled his friends who were driving behind him.
His focus now is on seeing his beloved Arnett Gardens Football Club positioning itself to win the National Premier League title again and he is dedicating all his energies to make that a rewarding reality.