BEFORE April 8, 2022 Ruel Grant and Keith Nugent had never met but after that day, having battled to free five women trapped in a burning motor car, the two — who were on Monday, October 16 awarded the Badge of Honour for their act of gallantry — will forever be bonded.
Speaking with the Jamaica Observer after their walk across the lawn to the dais at King’s House in St Andrew to receive their national honours from the hands of Governor General Patrick Allen, both men say the memories of that day will be hard to lay to rest due to the fact that they were unable to save 58-year-old Patrisha Brown, a former resident of Warner Street, Port Maria in St Mary, who remained trapped despite their valiant efforts to free her before the flames consumed both her and the car, her agonising screams reverberating in the air.
“She was behind the driver; it was a right-hand drive car. That lady was very fat, and we tried to help her but she couldn’t move because she was pinned down. We a try break the glass, we tried to throw water on the fire, a man came with a fire extinguisher but the fire wouldn’t go out. It came to the dashboard, up in the car, and started to spread. One other man broke the glass and her foot came out but we just couldn’t help her,” Grant recalled for the Observer.
Grant, a farmer who resides in St Thomas, said on the day in question he was travelling from Rolandsfield District, where he lives, when he met upon the motor car with the ill-fated occupants aboard.
“I was driving behind a car but the road had some very sharp corners so I didn’t really see the car while I was driving, but I knew it was in front of me. When I went around a left-hand corner I see the car capsize in the road.I was seeing the wheels so I reversed and parked on a side of the road. I ran over and pushed the back door up. I tried the front door [but] it wouldn’t open, it was closed. When I pushed up the front door the weight of it brought it back down on me so I pushed it again with more force. I saw people inside cuddled up, crying,” Grant reminisced.
He said in running to get his phone to summon cops, he saw Nugent who had also been driving along the roadway. “Mi seh to him, ‘Some people inna di car.’ When mi look in the front of the car, the engine was on fire so he came and was helping. Some other people came, because there was a funeral going on in the district, so we pulled them out — one by one. We pulled out four persons,” he said.
Brown, however, remained trapped, her cries and screams dreadful to the helpless rescuers.
“It a run through mi head, mi just a consider. Is the first mi experience something like that. Mi think about it nuff time. What really [lessened the mental impact] was that I didn’t know the individual. I didn’t see her like how I can see you. Even when she was in the fire I couldn’t see her, I could only see the colour of her clothes,” Grant said.
“Afterwards when I saw a picture of her, that’s when I felt it more — only to know that when the news was read in the evening and people who know me saw me, then a lady called me and said: ‘The lady is my auntie,’ and then mi feel it even more,” he told the Observer sadly.
The memory, he says, is still potent.
“When mi a pass the spot right now, because it is in my district, it is so painful but God knows we did our best, we saved four out of five. While there I was afraid, saying: ‘I wonder if this car going to blow.’ But we still tried our best, and God was there. God was there,” Grant added.
For Nugent, an internal auditor, the experience and the images have lingered. He said the fate of the fourth woman pulled from the car could have been the same as the fifth if he had not decided to run back one more time to the burning vehicle.
“The individuals were motionless initially, and then after calling and calling out to them they started to move around. The first three could help us to help them. The fourth was an elderly lady so it was very difficult to get her to a height where we could assist her to come out. She wasn’t able to stand on the seat so we could get to her arms and lift her,” said Nugent who, alongside his wife and a relative, were en route to a funeral in the area at the time of the incident.
“We tried numerous times. Even when Mr Grant and everyone else stood off, I was trying. Then I started to feel the heat on my chest and I ran off too because I started to hear my wife and aunt screaming, ‘Come! It’s going to blow, ‘ so I ran off. But when I looked, she was standing [in the car]. And the image of her standing there and the thought of her perishing was too much so I turned back again and I called out, and Mr Grant and one of the first ladies to get out of the car came back and the three of us were able to get her out,” he said.
After lifting her to safety Nugent, who had been lost in the moment, realised that other cars were too close for comfort. He recalls instructing individuals to move their vehicles to safety before the blazing car exploded.
“After that was done and I heard the screaming and the fire engulfing the car. It couldn’t get much more terrifying. I was shaking from the exhaustion and the smoke inhalation and I started to feel dizzy. I got in my car and drove away. I took an alternate route to the funeral,” he told the Observer softly, a faraway look in his eyes.
“It took a while to be able to sleep. My aunt, my wife, their diet was affected — it took its toll on all of us. It’s one of those things you wish never to have to do again,” he stated grimly.
On Monday, 205 Jamaicans were conferred with national honours and awards at the Ceremony of Investiture and Presentation of National Honours and Awards at King’s House.
Five were conferred with the Order of Jamaica, 27 with the Order of Distinction (Commander Class), and 36 with the Order of Distinction in the rank of Officer. The Badge of Honour for Gallantry was posthumously presented to firefighter Lorenzo Douse, who died on November 30 last year after he was struck by a motor vehicle while on duty.
Some 28 civilians received the Badge of Honour for Meritorious Service, while 29 others were awarded the Badge of Honour for Long and Faithful Service in areas such as community development, community service, education, nursing, dentistry, and the public service.
In addition, members of the uniformed groups representing the Jamaica Defence Force, Jamaica Constabulary Force, Department of Correctional Services, and Jamaica Fire Brigade were presented with the Medal of Honour for Meritorious Service.