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No help

Survivors of Rio Grande crash which killed 14 appeal for help

BY KIMONE FRANCIS
Observer staff reporter
francisk@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, September 18, 2017

ALMOST a decade after the tragic Rio Grande Valley crash in Portland, which claimed the life of 14 people, survivors, some with permanent injuries, say they have received no help from authorities.

On December 19, 2008, a market truck carrying 21 people plunged over the edge of the treacherous roadway in the Rio Grande Valley. It was a rainy night and survivors said the driver had misjudged a corner, sending the overburdened truck, headed for Coronation Market, over a precipice. He was not licensed to drive a truck.

That night Novelette Fuller-Francis, one of seven survivors, found herself in the river beneath the roadway with a bag of dasheen, too heavy to estimate the weight, on her chest. There were dead bodies around her and deafening cries for help.

They had been stranded for approximately two hours, she said, before the first sign of help arrived.

“Mi see two man with light, but dem never see me and mi call out to dem and ask if dem have a knife and cut off the bag off of mi. Mi couldn't walk till after a while and when mi manage fi get up, mi hear “Mayoung” bawl out: 'Ms Lyn, see if unuh get a machete and come chop off mi foot,'” the woman recalled.

“Mayoung”, whose real name is Linford Jackson, had been pinned down under the truck with two bodies on top of him.

She said that she was not able to assist him as the two men who had come to her rescue tried to get her back up to the main road via makeshift steps. She then informed firefighters that he and others had been trapped.

“Mi go a hospital. Dem come, dem take statement and say dem will be back. Mi spend quite a while because the tissue dem inna mi chest did tear out so dem did affi deal with that. And up to now mi cyah lift weight because if mi lift it mi feel it inna mi chest,” she shared with the Jamaica Observer north & East.

It was after that time she had heard that some of her family members had not survived. The Mill Bank community, where the majority of victims were from, had been plunged into mourning. The community had made history, but for the wrong reason.

Two mass funerals followed the incident and were by far the biggest events to have ever happened in the small rural community.

“Mi never go back a town from that. When mi see the truck dem a come mi traumatised so bad mi start tremble. But gradually mi pray and now mi can stand up and watch di truck dem pass, but mi naah go inna dem,” Fuller-Francis said, adding that she becomes extremely anxious whenever she witnesses a crash.

Jackson, while not left as |traumatised as his then neighbour, has issues with his feet and is unable to stay on them for more than a couple minutes.

“It pain mi bad, bad. It coming like mi lose dem because mi barely have use fi dem,” he told Observer North & East.

And like Fuller-Francis, he is unable to work. His farm, he said, has been left to the mercies of stray animals.

The two said although assistance was promised, none came.

“Wi go through the accident and we nuh get nuh help more than the first time when wi just meet inna di accident dem give wi $20,000 each fi Christmas. A deh so it end. Nobody nuh come fi seh 'xyz, this a the first step you fi take' or 'that a the first step you fi take'.

“Now when wi ask questions dem seh the public defender has it but the public defender come four months a back and seh how wi nuh mek nuh case of it. How wi fi make case when dem tell wi the public defender have it?” the woman expressed.

She said survivors are being told that they should have taken action.

“So, in other words, nothing will be done,” she theorised, noting that they would have followed up with the case if they had knowledge that they could.

“Wi coulda take action because wi pay wi money fi go town; it never free. So that is just the way it goes. Because you poor everything go to ruin. If wi did have money fi stand up and fight we battle, wi woulda did get something out of it,” she stressed.

In the same breath, she appealed to those who can assist to do so.