‘This is death!’
SPUR TREE, Manchester — Jackie Dunbar thought she was going to die when her car got out of as part of on Spur Tree Hill during Monday’s oil spill-induced multi-vehicle crash.
Dunbar, who described the experience as “extremely frightening”, was making her daily commute to work in Santa Cruz when disaster struck on the notoriously treacherous stretch of road.
“At the corner I picked up a skid and then I realised that there is some oil on the road. Instead of holding the brake, I tried to steer the vehicle down as best as possible. After a while, I just couldn’t steer anymore. The car just spun around in the road, hit the embankment there, and then after that I realised that this is an accident… ‘This is death now,’ that is what I thought,” she told the Jamaica Observer.
“I got out of the car because I realised that other vehicles were coming and I didn’t want them to come down and hit me,” added Dunbar who said her car was the first of seven vehicles to crash shortly before 7:00 am.
“They (motorists) were experiencing the same thing. I got out of the car, went on the other side of the road, then I realised that there was a fire, so the driver of that bus came out with his fire extinguisher; he was the one who put the blaze out. By that time now, cars were just going over. There was one van that just went over into the precipice. There was one that hit in the light pole. Cars were just going in crazy directions,” Dunbar said.
“I am thankful to be spared. I am happy to be alive,” she added.
During the interview with the Observer Dunbar realised that her cousin, Gordon Trowers, was also involved in the nasty mishap. His vehicle went off-road into a ditch.
“When I came around the corner I felt the vehicle sliding so I pressed the brake, and this is where it carried me over. I was frightened but I give God thanks for life because it could have been worse,” said Trowers.
The Observer was told that a Hiace minibus, which crashed into a utility post, was transporting members of Jamaica Constabulary Force to western Jamaica. Sources say at least two police personnel were seriously injured. A policeman had to be extracted from the mangled vehicle.
Jamaica Fire Brigade District Officer Fitzroy Donaldson explained that it took some time to remove the policeman. The injured cop was transported to hospital in the back of a police pickup assigned to Manchester.
“Our extrication equipment was used to [remove] a male victim from a grey Hiace motor van; the extrication process took about 20 minutes. We managed to have him transported in a police vehicle to the hospital,” Donaldson said.
He suggested that more resources are needed to respond to crashes.
“Resources are not readily available to respond to incidents like these. I wish that could change,” the fireman said.
He explained that water was used to wash the oil from the road.
“We cannot use dirt, as we normally do, because the dirt around the area is wet, and when you put that dirt on the oil it will make the situation more dangerous,” Donaldson explained.
Head of the St Elizabeth police Deputy Superintendent Coleridge Minto, who was on his way to his divisional headquarters in Black River, was among those stranded on Spur Tree Hill Monday morning. Scores of commuters, including hundreds of schoolchildren, walked for miles to access transportation, due to the road being blocked and emergency responders clearing the oil spillage for four hours.
It is believed the oil was discharged from a truck earlier Monday morning.
“It may have resulted from a truck travelling in a westerly direction towards St Elizabeth. We have already [alerted] the commanders for St Elizabeth, Westmoreland, and Hanover. We are trying to identify the truck that persons indicated perhaps had some mechanical difficulties why the oil came from that truck,” Minto said, adding that at least seven motor vehicles were involved in the mishap.
“Some [vehicles] made contact with each other [while] others were just single-vehicle [damage]. One [unmarked] police vehicle also hit into a light post, which resulted in several of our members sustaining severe injuries,” he added.
The St Elizabeth police chief said he will be coordinating with the Manchester police to monitor the road.
“We are still appealing to the motorists who are using the Spur Tree main road to exercise immense caution… Spur Tree is a major corridor which connects people travelling to the western side of the island and vice versa. We are aware that there are some large units that carry aggregate, and at times there is spillage of this. I will be speaking with my Manchester counterpart as well as my own police in St Elizabeth to ensure that we do some active policing on these corridors to ensure that, particularly the heavy units coming through the space meet the regulations in terms of their load and weight. If necessary, we [will] engage the [Island Traffic Authority] to be a part of those operations,” he said.
The Spur Tree main road links Mandeville and its environs to St Elizabeth and points west. Heavily laden, slow-moving trucks often hinder traffic on the steep hill, and there have been a number of fatal crashes involving trucks down the years.
Road safety experts say inexperienced drivers, overweight and defective vehicles are among the main causes for mishaps on the crash-prone road.
Recently, Prime Minister Andrew Holness reiterated plans to extend Highway 2000 further west, bypassing the crash-prone Spur Tree Hill road.
“Looking ahead, the Government plans to further extend the highway to bypass Spur Tree within the next five years, continuing its commitment to improving Jamaica’s road infrastructure,” he had said in a press release.
Last year Holness announced that the Government intends to extend the highway from Williamsfield, Manchester, to Hodges near Black River in St Elizabeth.