BY NEWSDAY STAFF Tuesday, September 4 2012
Twenty-three people, most of them members of TT’s military service, are alive today after surviving an accident in which the army truck they were travelling in overturned while en route from Charlotteville, Tobago on Sunday night.
They were among the members of the TT Defence Force Rugby Team in Tobago for a game over the weekend. Two civilians and five members of the military remained hosptialised yesterday. Due to their injuries one soldier had to be warded at Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of the Port-of-Spain General Hospital (PoSGH) and another at Westshore Medical, Cocorite. The others injured were warded at the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex (EWMSC), Mt Hope.
The driver of the truck, Lance Corporal Nicholas Marcelle, was yesterday commended by Minister of National Security Jack Warner, Chief of Defence Staff Brigadier Kenrick Maharaj and Commanding Officer of the Regiment Anthony W J Phillips-Spencer for preventing loss of life.
A total of 23 persons— 17 soldiers, two sailors and four civilians — were injured in the accident. According to a release from the Defence Force headquarters, 17 of the injured were immediately transported to Scarborough Hospital, eight who sustained serious injuries were evacuated by National Security Operations Centre (NSOC), National Helicopter Service Ltd (NHSL) and Air Guard C26 aircraft to Trinidad for medical care.
A second release in the afternoon said, “the last update received indicated that six of eight persons evacuated to Trinidad are still hospitalised. The two most serious casualties (sic) were taken to Westshore and the other to PoSGH. The other four injured are warded at Mt Hope Medical Hospital.” It said a female soldier was still warded at Scarborough Hospital pending minor eye surgery. The other 14 (sic) admitted to the hospital were treated and discharged. They were expected to return to Trinidad yesterday morning on a military aircraft.
According to eyewitnesses in Charlotteville, Marcelle was pinned beneath the overturned vehicle and his agonising cries pierced the night as fire and emergency personnel worked to free him, eventually doing so in about 30 minutes of careful work.
Yesterday, Marcelle was one of the injured discharged from EWMSC. According to Tobago police reports at about 6.30 pm on Sunday evening, the driver of the army truck got into difficulty as he was about to negotiate a very sharp bend in the roadway known locally as Bark Hill. He tried to bank the truck which, in the process, flipped over on its side in the roadway.
A large crowd of villagers gathered on the scene as news of the incident spread. Several ambulances and Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) vehicles from the Tobago Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) quickly converged on the scene along with police, fire and emergency personnel.
The injured were rushed to Scarborough hospital while several were airlifted direct to Trinidad via a helicopter from the Syd Gray Sporting Complex grounds at Roxborough, about 20 miles west of Charlotteville. The recreation ground at Charlotteville was also used as a transfer point.
Warner and other ministry and Defence Force personnel visited the injured at Westshore Medical, EWMSC and Scarborough hospital yesterday afternoon. Phillips-Spencer said two civilians and five soldiers were warded. He said a “thorough investigation” would take place into the accident. Based on the information received so far, Phillips-Spencer said the vehicle was returning from Charlotteville, where a rugby game had been played.
“In negotiating a hairpin bend, you know there are some sharp bends, the vehicle we understand came into contact with a part of the curb and somehow or other in the process of attempting to recover the driver did very well, if you know the road, in not having the vehicle go down the precipice, and took the vehicle more to the bank of the road, the vehicle turned over and if you are travelling in a truck you get some banging about and that has caused all the injuries,” he said in an interview at the EWMSC.
Maharaj also praised Marcelle for preventing a “greater tragedy.” He was comforted that “the driver of the vehicle did so well to at least keep some level of control, to have the vehicle manoeuvred out of the more dangerous path of the precipice and have it banked on the roadside.” Responding to a question, Maharaj said in 1996 there was a “similar occurrence” on the North Coast Road when persons were returning from a family day hosted by the rifle company stationed at Camp Ogden. In that incident, there were “four military fatalities” and civilians were injured. “In this case we are thankful,” said Maharaj.
Warner spoke to Marcelle yesterday and praised his “dexterity” in preventing loss of life. “For that we are eternally grateful,” he told Marcelle via telephone. At Westshore, Lance Corporal (LCpl) A Bodie was being kept at the ICU. He is being treated for broken ribs and a fractured left arm. Warner told media no cost would be spared in the treatment of the Defence Force personnel. Warner then visited the Adult Accident and Emergency (A&E) of the EWMSC where private S Gordon was being kept for observation. She received bruises to the chest and head fractures. During Warner’s visit she was lucid enough to respond to him as well as Maharaj and Phillips-Spencer. The next stop was the observation ward where Coast Guard sailor Keith Francis was warded. “Take it easy. Keep the faith,” Warner said as he patted Francis’ arm. The seaman was eager to leave the hospital and was expected to be discharged yesterday afternoon. Civilian Ian Brown had a bandage on the right side of his head and also has a broken right arm. Clinical Director of the A& E Dr Helmer Hilwig, who accompanied Warner during the visit at EWMSC, said Brown was stable and “should heal without any further complication.”
Asked the status of the soldiers and civilians hospitalised Phillips- Spencer said, “in some cases we have to wait a little bit more to get a clearer picture of how long the recovery will take but generally the feedback from doctors is that the outlook is positive so we continue to trust and support the care being given to the soldiers and sailors – we have a sailor in Tobago, we have a sailor here, we have one member of the Defence Force reserve.”
He commended the effective response to the accident by CERT, and TEMA, which coordinates with the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management. The first responders — CERT, Fire Service and emergency health services Tobago examined the injured. They were supported by a medical professional who was at the site.
Phillips-Spencer said this helped with triaging (prioritising) persons who needed to be immediately evacuated via ambulance or evacuated via helicopter. Fifteen persons were taken via ambulance to the Scarborough Hospital and persons who had to be airlifted were “stabilised.”
Phillips-Spencer said, “what we witnessed here is within 12 hours we had more than just primary care, also secondary health care delivered to all 23 persons.” Warner commended the collaborative effort.
“The medical attention given to the injured soldiers and civilians have been first-class, they have assured me that they are doing their best in the circumstances except for one or two cases they have said the recovery would be almost immediate. We hope for the best.”