Drunk driver fatal jet ski accident gets 9 months

POSTED: 01/19/12 1:24 PM

St. Maarten – The Court in First Instance sentenced 37-year-old Aubrey Thom to 9 months imprisonment for an accident with a jet ski that cost teenager Felicia Williams her life on March 27 of last year. Judge Mr. Monique Keppels acquitted Thom of manslaughter, but sentenced him for culpable homicide. She also granted the deceased girl’s mother a claim for damages to the tune of $7,400.

Thom was not in court yesterday, because he had been unable to obtain a visa from his native Guyana. The defendant was in court in June of last year; at the time the case was postponed because his attorney mr. Brenda Brooks had not received the relevant files to prepare her defense and because the defendant was in the United States.

mr. Brooks said she had urged her client to make haste with obtaining a visa, but he told her on Tuesday that he did not have it yet. Thom needed the visa, even though his summons states that he has the right to return to the island to attend his trial.

Because she did not have a mandate, mr. Brooks desisted, and Judge mr. Monique Keppels granted the prosecution’s request to try the defendant in absentia.

Felicia Williams and her girlfriend Shamira Benjamin asked the defendant for a ride on his jet ski on that fatal Saturday afternoon. It remains unclear whether Thom asked the girls whether they were able to swim because his statement is at odds with that of the girlfriend, but the fact remains that he took the girls on board without equipping them with life jackets.

When Thom took the heavy jet ski into rough waters it capsized whereby he and the victim ended up in the water while the girlfriend managed to hang on to the jet ski. Thom claimed to police that he has become exhausted and that he was unable to do anything to save Felicia Williams who did not master swimming.

The police doctor tested Thom 3.5 hours after the accident for alcohol and found a 0.044 percent level in his blood. Since the body breaks down alcohol at a rate of 0.016 percent, Thom’s blood-alcohol level at the time of the accident must have been something like 0.1 percent, which is for instance higher that the permitted levels of 0.08 percent for driving a car in some countries.

“The consequences of this ride were predictable,” mr. Benammar said.

“The defendant was the driver, he took the girls along and only he was wearing a life jacket. He was under the influence of alcohol and the sea was rough. I believe Shamira when she said they had told him that Felicia did not master swimming.”

The prosecutor concluded there is proof for manslaughter and demanded 30 months imprisonment. Judge Keppels withdrew to her chambers to mull things over, and arrived at a different conclusion.

“It is not certain the defendant knew Felicia did not master swimming. And why would he ask them if they knew how to swim if it did not interest him?” The Judge acquitted Thom of manslaughter but found him guilty of culpable homicide.

Given the fact that the defendant is abroad and that he did not show up for his trial, it is doubtful he will ever serve his sentence or pay the claim the court awarded the girl’s mother.

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