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By STACY MOORE and Darcel Choy Tuesday, January 28 2014

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Sixteen students and two adults suffered injuries in two accidents that heralded a dangerous start to the week on the nation’s roads yesterday.

Although there were no fatalities, at least four persons had to be hospitalised.

The first accident occurred at about 6.30 am when 16 students were forced to climb through the windows of a private school bus to safety after a truck transporting gravel crashed into them along the South Trunk Road, La Romaine.

The students were taken to San Fernando General Hospital by the Emergency Health Services (EHS). Of the 16, nine-year-old Nayaa Maharaj and Venoon Michael Doone, 15, remained hospitalised up to late last night.

Nayaa, a standard three student of Grant Memorial Presbyterian Primary School, sustained injuries to her neck and is listed in a stable condition. However, Doone remains warded at the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of the hospital.

According to police reports, Vishnu Maharaj, 51, was transporting students in a 25-seater school bus, and was proceeding south along South Trunk Road when a truck heading in the opposite direction crashed into the school bus. The truck was transporting gravel.

The glass windows of the school bus shattered upon impact.

“All I could do was pray when I saw this truck loaded with gravel coming straight towards us. I had to think quick and my priority was getting these children to safety,” said Maharaj, who suffered injuries to his left leg.

Maharaj, of Rousillac, the father of Nayaa, said everything happened in the “blink of an eye”. Nayaa was the first person to spot the truck heading in their direction. “By the time she said, ‘daddy look!’, there was this truck loaded with gravel coming straight towards us. There was only so much that I could have done. I kept thinking I didn’t want anyone to die, I had to do something. So I swerved the maxi (bus) off the road into the grass,” Maharaj said.

The front of the truck crashed into the right side of the school bus. “If I had not swerved that truck would have crashed head on killing me instantly. You don’t know how lucky we are to be alive. I thank God so much for that and I am praying for the full recovery of my daughter and Michael (Doone) who remains in hospital,” said Maharaj.

At the Intensive Care Unit, Doone’s father, Vindra, said his son received 20 stitches to his head but he was hopeful of a full recovery.

“I will not stop praying, I know he is going to be okay. I want to thank the doctors, fire services, passers-by and all those who helped,” Vindra said. Doone attends ASJA Boys’ College.

Maharaj said he has been transporting students for the past 20 years and never had an accident. “In all my life of transporting students, I have had an unblemished record,” he said. “Drivers need to be more careful on the roads. I can’t emphasise this enough. My daughter and the lives of all these innocent children could have been lost. It was a horrible experience and I am still shaken, so I could imagine how these children are feeling.”

Several students seated near the front door of the school bus were able to exit safely through the door but others had to climb through the windows.

Even as some students, uniforms covered in blood, received treatment at the Accident and Emergency Department of the hospital, others were being carried in on stretches after arriving in ambulances.

Some of them had been helped out of the school bus by Shivan Maharaj, 18, and Nishan Ragbir, 17, who were passengers as well. Shivan, a University of the West Indies student, said he stayed calm to keep those on the bus with him safe.

“I kept saying to myself, ‘not to panic,’ but I think I was in a state of shock. I just wanted to make sure everyone was safe,” Shivan told Newsday. He said he stayed inside the school bus helping other students climb through the windows while Ragbir was outside ensuring each student got safely to the ground.

Shivan and Ragbir sustained bruises to their hands. Seated near to Shivan was his 14-year-old cousin, ASJA Girls’ College student, Cassiean Mohammed.

“Cassiean’s condition was way worse than mine. Her head was covered in blood which just kept dripping from her head. I took off my jacket and sort of wrapped it around her head to stop the blood before I helped her out through the window,” Shivan recalled.

A shaken Mohammed told Newsday all she could remember was the shattering sound of glass before seeing her school shirt covered in blood. Mohammed was treated for injuries to her head and hands. Another student, Jodienne Singh, 14, was still in a state of shock. Singh was accompanied by her mother, Kamlee, as they left the hospital. Kamlee said she was grateful her daughter was alive and safe. Veer Bachan, 14, sustained cuts on his face while his brother Vishal escaped with minor injuries. They are both students of Naparima Boys’ College. Kajol Baal, 16, of ASJA Girls’ College complained of pains to her stomach. Most students were reportedly discharged and said to be resting at their homes.

A statement was taken from the driver of the truck who escaped unhurt. Snr Supt Cecil Santana visited the hospital and San Fernando police officers are continuing investigations.

Hours after the school bus and truck collision, another accident occurred, but in east Trinidad.

In this incident a man and a woman were taken to the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex, (EWMSC) Mt Hope after the vehicle they were in crashed into a drain near the Orange Grove intersection, Tacarigua, on the Churchill Roosevelt Highway (CRH).

At about 9 am, motorists noticed a grey Toyota Corolla, driven by Aldwyn Morris, 71, of Manzanilla swerving off the road. They said it initially looked as if he was pulling on to the shoulder, however, the vehicle never stopped. Fire officers from the Tunapuna station responded to the call under the charge of FSSO McIntosh.

Officers and passers-by had to form a human chain to remove Morris from the vehicle as well as his female passenger, Maimoon Roopnarine, also of Manzanilla, who was seated in the back.

Once Morris and Roopnarine were taken out of the car, they were placed on backboards in the tray of a fire van and taken to the EWMSC. They were reported to be in stable condition. Then, a few hours later, a ten-tonne dump truck carrying gravel overturned at the traffic lights near the University of the West Indies, St Augustine along the CRH, spreading gravel along the westbound lane.

According to reports, Alvin Sampat of Gafoor Trace, Tableland was heading west along the CRH with Nicholas Ramdial of Marabella as his passenger, when he tried to avoid hitting a vehicle in front of him and he lost control and the truck overturned. Officers from the St Joseph Police Station as well as the Tunapuna Fire Station responded. Sampat was later taken to the EWMSC. The accident caused a massive traffic pile-up as the gravel covered two lanes.

A backhoe, a wrecker and a ten-tonne truck from the Disaster Preparedness Division of the Tunapuna/Piarco Regional Corporation were used to remove the gravel.

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