Vernamfield Pain | News | Jamaica Gleaner
“Set-ups”, excavations of graves, vigils and tears. The story of a rustic community from Spring Grove to Porus, Manchester, bewildered with grief and preparing to bury two of their own killed in road accidents exactly two months apart.
The first, 48-year-old Carlton Simpson, was involved in a three-vehicle collision on the main road in Content on May 17. A jovial and respected member of the community, his picture hangs in local shops as his friends and family plan his last rites.
The community would lose a second member on Sunday July 17 at the Drag Rivals racing event in Vernamfield, Clarendon, as Ashley Findley-Forbes, 25, was the victim of a runaway car.
Concerns were raised over whether the encounter should have taken place after miscreants allegedly coated the track with several gallons of oil a day before the event, apparently in an act of sabotage. The organizers then embarked on a day-long mission to try to restore the surface to suitable conditions.
Video footage of the crash shows the car driving off the former US WWII airstrip and slamming into a crowd of onlookers. Findley-Forbes was among four people injured. She died during surgery at May Pen Hospital a few hours later.
“This one (the death of Findley-Forbes) was really a second shock!” Agrene Dale lifted as she recalled the incident last Thursday.
“She was a church girl, loved her court; from work to home, that’s all,” Dale said of her childhood friend.
“She was so sweet and humble and jovial,” she continued. “What makes it harder is you watch TV and phones and some of us didn’t even know it was her at first.”
At a candlelight vigil last Tuesday, reality hit harder.
For Findley-Forbes’ mother, Lisa, the pain is indescribable.
After accepting an interview with The Sunday Gleanerthe mother withdrew at the last minute on Thursday, the grief still too heavy to tell.
On her social media pages, however, she lamented exhausting mornings without her daughter and having to identify her body at a funeral home. She posted photos of her and Findley-Forbes on the internet, as well as images of candles dotting pathways in the community during the vigil. Some were placed in the shape of a heart around a photo of Findley-Forbes.
Not far from her home, the father of the Findley-Forbes six-year-old, Patrick Pinnock, wept openly as he recounted the tragedy. He was told the boy had been brought in to urinate moments before the crash.
“How come they don’t have proper barriers in the living room?” How is it?” He asked. “And we were both breadwinners for our son, 50-50. Now that she’s gone, how’s it going to be? came to talk to us or offered us anything.
Findley-Forbes, who recently married, attended the drag race meet with her son and husband a day before her son’s birthday. He always asks for his mother.
“It’s really sad in the community,” offered Joseph Simpson, still in mourning for his parent Carlton Simpson. In a roadside row in the community over culpability in Vernamfield, he defended safety standards there. Others don’t.
“But, you see, in driving, anything can happen when you’re in a vehicle,” Joseph said, recounting several fatal encounters during his 15 years as a taxi driver.
Dale was unconvinced, adamant that more can be done to protect spectators at such events.
A CIVIL CASE
It remains unclear what actions may be taken against the promoters of the event or the driver of the hapless motor vehicle.
Deputy Police Commissioner Gary McKenzie said the investigation into the Vernamfield accident could take another few months.
The investigation is primarily within the purview of Clarendon Police in conjunction with crash reconstruction officers, he said. As of last week, statements from other injured people were still pending.
McKenzie responded to allegations of sabotage on the track.
“Aspects of this may come out as well as the recording of statements from people who may know this is the case. We are doing a kind of technical analysis to find out how and why the accident could have happened,” he said.
“This is a private space, and where we have any event that attracts the public that needs to be scrutinized by public officials to include the police,” he said. . “So we have to look at the permissions that have been granted to use the area, the event itself and the kinds of preparations that have been made for security.”
Negligence can be a possible charge, McKenzie agreed.
Police have already questioned Rory Smith, 41, the driver of the Toyota Supra involved in the accident, and according to his lawyer, Christopher Townsend, the case would be one for the civil courts.
“You have to remember that this is not a road manslaughter situation. This is an incident on a speed track at an event where there are customers. So the situation is very different and the laws around it are different,” the lawyer said. The Sunday Gleaner.
“One of the best examples is there’s no speed limit because it’s a highway, and that’s one of the things you would use to determine negligence, which is speed. You wouldn’t have that component there.
Townsend added: “It’s also a fact that the track was sprayed with oil. But the track was certified for racing. So I guess a full investigation will reveal more. But it appears to be more of a civil matter than a criminal liability.
The incident nonetheless enveloped the local motorsport industry. It has undoubtedly brought a veil of sadness to Drag Rivals organizer Kenneth Timoll, who has played a pivotal role on the motorsport scene for many years.
Timoll has held 11 drag racing events since 2018. All of them were kept at Jamwest Motorsport and Adventure Park in Westmoreland before the event moved to a more central Vernamfield this year.
The Jamaica Millennium Motoring Club (JMMC) is the sole competition licensing authority for local motorsport.
“You need police clearance, parish council clearance, public insurance clearance, ambulance and JMMC permit, which has other stipulations to put in place “, said Timoll in an interview with The Sunday Gleaner.
He said the budget for such an event can range from $5 million to $15 million, depending on how many safety features and equipment the promoters can afford. Hosting an event in a place like Vernamfield, for example, where the venue is open, away from any buildings, electricity and drinking water, has an impact on the budget.
Except to express his condolences to the families affected, Timoll declined to speak about the crash, but said it shifted the focus from the positive aspects of local motorsport to the negative ones.
“No one pays attention to the good side of us bringing motorsport back into a sanctioned event after two and a half years or back to Vernamfield after five years. They don’t talk about what we’ve done for the community of Gimme-Me- Bit, things that we have put in place to help them recover from the loss of that income,” he said.
“It really paints a bad picture of what we’re trying to do because there’s been a lot of illegal activity (drag racing) all over the island and a lot of incidents in other places. It’s unfortunate that now that we’re trying to bring it back to a standard and run safely, … no one wants to point that out.
Timoll said motorsport is a staple of Jamaican culture and now more than ever Jamaicans and businesses need to join in.
In the meantime, motorsport vlogger Nick Lue of Skvnlifestyle, while offering his sympathy to bereaved relatives and friends, also called on Jamaican authorities and businesses to step up their support for motorsport. This is one of the ways to improve safety, he said.