After at least two accused in two high-profile murder matters jumped bail ahead of their hearing before him in recent days, Supreme Court Judge Justice Leighton Pusey on Monday remanded the driver of a garbage truck that crushed and killed a seven-year-old boy just over three years ago, saying it was a pre-emptive strike against history repeating itself.
Alten Brooks, the driver of the truck that crushed seven-year-old Benjamin Bair on the grounds of the Clan Carthy Primary School in October 2019, had been on bail since shortly after the tragedy.
“The court has in mind that Mr Brooks has been on bail for quite a long period in this matter. In fact, it was this court, as presently constituted, that granted him bail way back in 2020. However, the court is mindful of the fact that, having come with an expectation of being returned to freedom, that it might take him some time to adjust to the new circumstances and when one is making that adjustment sometimes there are other voices around and I think it’s prudent for me to remand him in custody until he returns to court,” Justice Pusey said in adjourning the sitting that was supposed to be a sentencing hearing.
Bair was on the compound of the school in Kingston awaiting a pickup on October 28, 2019 when the tragedy unfolded. Brooks was the driver of the truck that had been contracted by the school to clear garbage. Brooks, according to details read into the records of the court, drove onto the compound at approximately 4:30 pm accompanied by two side men. Upon reaching the garbage area the side men told him to operate the compactor, which ran on the throttle of the vehicle, so they could get more space in the truck for the garbage that was there.
Brooks, the court heard, used a stick to press down on the accelerator pedal in the truck before exiting the vehicle and heading to the back of the truck. While outside the truck, it drove off at a high speed and collided into a Toyota motorcar parked on the compound, causing it to overturn.
While the students in the schoolyard at the time ran to avoid being hit, Bair, who the court was told also started to run, was trapped by the truck which overturned on him, killing him on the spot.
Brooks and his two side men then fled the scene. Three days later Brooks turned himself in to the police and upon being cautioned said, “Officer, mi nuh waan go jail, cyaan manage it.” When a warrant for prosecution was executed on him, Brooks, under caution, said, “Officer, mi sorry, a old truck; yuh haffi bridge it fi start it, it nuh roadworthy.”
On Monday, Justice Pusey, in an unexpected move, indicated that the court would be rejecting the sentence recommendation in the plea arrangement struck between the defence and prosecutors, stating that he was having trouble with the sentencing recommendation for a non-custodial sentence by Brooks’ attorney Davion Vassell and an aspect of the social enquiry report in which a particular admission was made by Brooks.
“The difficulty is twofold. Having read the matter and looked at the circumstances, I am not of the view that I can agree with the sentence recommendations, even if the situation is as agreed in the statements of facts. I would have a difficulty with the sentence recommendation which, as I see, does not contemplate a custodial sentence,” Justice Pusey said.
He noted further that a particular admission made by Brooks in the report indicated that an aspect of the agreed facts is not supported. As such, Justice Pusey said the ball was in the defence’s court to either withdraw from the plea agreement, have the court decide, or go to trial.
“So I’m pointing out something else and I am careful not to say anything in open court since as the matter may be tried if you decided to go to trial,” the judge said.
With Vassell indicating that he would wish to have some guidance from the bench, Justice Pusey indicated that he would rise and meet with the attorney in chambers to discuss the issue before returning to the courtroom.
However, before rising, Justice Pusey, in response to a query from the attorney, said, “You will, however, appreciate that because of recent experience, when I move towards a custodial sentence the accused person having this surprise. Each person would have come here having expected, based on the plea agreement, to leave here at liberty or at worst having to make some financial arrangements. I would not wish that his distress be transferred into too great action.”
The trial judges’ enigmatic comment was perhaps a reference to last Friday’s development in which Kuoran Patterson, the man who was before the court for the 2012 murder of attorney Clover Graham, absconded bail after faithfully attending court on numerous occasions since 2012 and was even present up to Thursday at the Supreme Court when the matter was called up. A warrant has been ordered for his arrest and a stop order issued.
Similarly, last November, Simeon Sutherland, the man accused of murdering former People’s National Party Member of Parliament Dr Lynvale Bloomfield — whose case was also set to be heard by Justice Pusey — disappeared from the precincts of the court after arriving with his parents. He remains on the run. The police have been ordered to arrest Sutherland on sight.
Last Friday Justice Pusey, in making passing reference to the issue of defendants jumping bail, voiced tacit support for the pending new Bail Act which includes electronic monitoring of individuals out on bond.
“Very interestingly, there is scope for two things which the powers that be have not yet put in place in relation to the Bail Act which is that there is actually provision for electronic monitoring, which we never had,” Justice Pusey said on Friday while making the cryptic observation that “it’s always interesting to see legislation made with grand designs and passed and the executive doesn’t necessarily get around to these things”, he said then.
On Monday, the lanky white-haired Brooks, clad as he had been at other times in a grey T-shirt and pale blue jeans which lingered several inches above his ankles, cut a desolate figure as he was cuffed and removed from the courtroom.
His attorney, in indicating that he wanted time to take further instructions from his client, asked that the matter be adjourned until this Friday at which point he would indicate the route the defence would take.