Truck driver faces 12 months in prison

POSTED: 02/23/12 2:41 PM

Fatal accident took the life of Sylvia Lynch

St. Maarten – Truck driver Manuel de Jesus M.-B. was driving too fast when he caused a traffic accident on the Sucker Garden Road on May 6 of last year that cost 12-year-old Sylvia Lynch her life. Prosecutor mr. Gonda van der Wulp demanded 12 months imprisonment against the 62-year-old defendant yesterday afternoon in the Court in First Instance. Of the demand, 6 months are suspended. The prosecution also wants to take away the trucker’s driving license for 2 years, and impose 3 years of probation. Judge mr. Monique Keppels will pronounce her verdict in three weeks time, on March 14. That happens to be the defendant’s birthday.

The truck driver told the court that he was driving slowly when he approached the school bus. He reckoned it would have pulled away by the time he reached its location, and when he later realized this would not be the case he had started hooting frantically. “The girl stepped out in front of the bus and kept talking to others in the bus,” he said, claiming that he kept hooting with his foot on the brake.

The school bus was, as is customary in St. Maarten when the driver lets children enter or leave, halfway across the road. It is an unwritten rule that cars do not overtake the school buses when they are parked that way.

“How come you did not stop before the bus?” Judge Keppels asked the defendant. She ;pointed out that pictures show that the truck came to a stop passed the school bus and passed the spot where the girl had been killed.

In his first statement to police, the driver declared that he had seen the school bus from a distance of about one hundred meters. He said in court that he had seen two students leave the bus and that he had only spotted Sylvia Lynch when he was just ten meters way.

The investigation established that the truck’s brakes were working properly, but also that the driver had swerved off the road to avoid the bus. In doing so, he ran over the school girl with fatal consequences.

After the accident, the truck driver did not get any more work from his employer. Since that time he is unemployed and lives of the income his wife generates.

Prosecutor mr. Gonda van der Wulp said that the defendant committed four traffic offenses. He drove at a time when it is forbidden for heavy traffic to be on the road, he did not adjust his speed to the situation, he steered his truck off the road, and he broke the unwritten rule not to overtake a school bus that is parked halfway across the road. The traffic ordinance decrees that heavy traffic is not allowed to be on the road between six thirty and eight thirty in the morning and between twelve noon and two o’clock in the afternoon. The accident happened at twenty minutes past one.

The defendant was driving a truck loaded with gravel. Its total weight was a bit over 35 ton. Tests have shown that such a truck needs between 5 and 7 meters to come to a full stop when it is driving at a speed of 10 kilometers per hour.

“The defendant has displayed improper and careless behavior in traffic. He is an experienced truck driver who started working as such back in 1980. He could have acted differently, but he did not,” mr. Van der Wulp said. “He never had the intention to bring his truck to a stop to wait what would happen with the school bus. The defendant consciously took an unacceptable risk that had serious consequences.”

The prosecutor blames the defendant for recklessness and that she would consider this in her demand. “But nothing will bring Sylvia back to her family and no punishment will soften the sorrow over her loss.”

Attorney mr. Geert Hatzmann asked the court to acquit his client because he only made a minor mistake and did not behave recklessly. Referring to Dutch jurisprudence he said that the guideline for similar cases is 2 months imprisonment and revoking the driver’s license for 1 year.

“A school bus that is parked halfway across the road is inconvenient for other traffic,” he said. “Why are there no bus stops for these buses at spots where students get on and off? Without this evident traffic violation the accident would never have taken place.”

mr. Hatzmann said that his client worked for a transport company at the time of the accident. “If the boss orders you to drive, you may assume that it is legal to be on the road,” he said about the charge that the truck had been on the road at a time when this is forbidden. “Maybe it is more dangerous for them to be on the road during hours that it is allowed, when joggers are on the road in the dark.”

He also contested that his client had been driving too fast: “The maximum speed is 50 kilometers per hour and he was driving very slowly, maybe 10 kilometers per hour.”

mr. Hatzmann maintained that his client had not broken any specific traffic rule and that this is not a case of reckless driving. “He made an error of judgment that unfortunately had fatal consequences.”

The attorney said that the prosecutor’s demand is too high, given the fact that the guidelines in the Netherlands show in practice already to be high. “Defendants with a heavier guilt than my client get off with community service or a fine.” He added 79 examples of Dutch court rulings to his plea to substantiate the point.

The court should also consider the defendant’s medical condition and his age, mr. Hatzmann said. He asked the court, if it arrived at a guilty verdict, to mitigate the punishment.

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