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Jan 20, 2003

4 dead, 11 injured in W. Highway collision

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Motorists on the nation’s streets and highways are driving a little more carefully tonight…but that warning to slow down has come at a terrible price. Four people are dead and eleven are hospitalised following a head on collision between two vehicles around 7:30 this morning on the rain slicked Western Highway. News 5′s Janelle Chanona and Brent Toombs were on their way on an assignment in Cayo when they arrived at the location near mile twenty-eight. Viewers should be warned that what they encountered was a grisly scene crowded with the dead, dying and injured, along with those trying desperately to save them. Jacqueline Woods reports.

Jacqueline Woods, Reporting

According to witnesses, a black Chevy Tracker with two tourists inside was heading west toward Belmopan when it tried to overtake a slower moving vehicle. Whether they didn’t see the oncoming open back Kia truck, or simply misjudged the distance is not clear, but the resulting impact was so powerful that the two vehicles merged into on tangled mass of metal. The five people inside the two vehicles were trapped, while the ten riding in the pan of the truck were tossed out like rag dolls. According to bus driver Emir Cowo, as the Tracker overtook his vehicle it suddenly began to swerve.

Emir Cowo, Eyewitness

“It start to zigzag and the Kia was coming opposite direction.”

Q: “You saw the Kia coming?”

Emir Cowo

“Yes, I see it from far, but the Tracker when he overtook me it start to…”

Q: “Were the vehicles going fast?

Emir Cowo


Q: “How fast were you going?”

Emir Cowo

“About fifty miles.”

Q: “But they overtook you?”

Emir Cowo

“Well I was going about fifty miles per hour.”

Q: “And both the Kia and the tracker were going fast you said?”

Emir Cowo

“Yes, both of them.”

Inside the black Tracker were thirty-one year old Lev Sekata and twenty-nine year old Carlina Bilich, both Ukrainian immigrants to the United States. The couple died on the spot. They had rented the vehicle from Crystal Auto Rental on Saturday to tour the country and were scheduled to return it on Tuesday.

The Kia, which belongs to Vision Builders Limited, a construction company in Belmopan, was transporting a total of thirteen employees. One of them, Carlos Obido Perez, who was sitting in the pan of the truck died on the spot after he was thrown from the vehicle, while a second worker in the truck pan, twenty-five year old Elias Leiva, died at the Belmopan Hospital. Medical technicians from The Belize Emergency Response Team from Belize City and Spanish Lookout along with two helicopter medivac teams from BATSUB raced to the scene while the National Fire Service was dispatched to try to free the victims trapped in the twisted vehicles.

Javier Canul, EMT, BERT

“We didn’t know what to expect, so when we got there we noticed that the three persons were trapped from the legs down. And that’s where we needed the fire service to come in and open a gap so that we could have taken out the patients. However, because of the extent of the damage of the vehicles, which were totally compressed against these guys, it could have taken forever…there’s a golden hour that we need to get these patients going as quickly as possible, so we decided not to utilise some of the equipments and basically use two trucks: a fire truck and a private vehicle, who managed to pry open the vehicles with lot of care, and we managed to extricate the patients from out of the vehicles.”

Q: I noticed as well that you all constantly kept talking to the injured, especially the driver.”

Javier Canul

“Yes. What happened is that in cases like these you need to keep a verbal communication with the patient, give them moral support so that they know that you are there with them and that you are there trying to help them as opposed to not being there, not talking to them and not letting them know what is happening, then these patients will become despondent and probably want to give up and deteriorate as fast as possible. But by talking to them you give them hope, so they hang in there.”

Q: One of these passengers almost lost his life, but thanks to an operation, I understand that was done en route to the K.H.M.H., this surgery basically saved this young man’s life.”

Javier Canul

“Yeah, actually that was done after we had settled the pre-hospital care, it was done by the doctor at BATSUB along with the doctor from San Ignacio. The both coordinated with the operation right on the scene.”

Q: What was his injury, did his lungs collapse?”

Javier Canul

“According to Dr. Cuellar, yes, his lungs had collapsed and they need to balance off the lungs because pressure was building up on one side.”

It took more than an hour to free the three young men from the truck cab. All were air ambulanced to the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital. For many emergency workers it was the first time they had to deal with an emergency of this magnitude.

Ernie Thiessen, EMT, BERT Spanish Lookout

“A lot of people with good experience, but this is a rare case for the country of Belize, so we do not have the experience of how to do it in a very fast way, so we did it the way how we could. A lot of people came to assist which is very good, the police controlled it very good, the bystanders were very much under control, which is excellent. We had quite a few EMTs out here; we had five ambulances out here; four from BERT and one from Belmopan. A staff of like ten of us were here, the police was assisting, the chopper came down, which was a very great help for the British to come out and help, took the three patients in a chopper which is very excellent for them.”

Q: Was it very difficult to stabilise your patients given how the metal had mangled themselves together?”

Ernie Thiessen

“It was very difficult because it was so mangled up and we didn’t want to hurt them more, but apparently we had to hurt them to take it out so that they could be very well covered and cared for.”

Late this afternoon, the Karl Heusner memorial Hospital held a press conference concerning the accident and what measures they had to take to receive the injured passengers as they arrived at the city’s hospital.

Matron Ivorine Bulwer-Hemmans, K.H.M.H.

“Put it this way, the accident and emergency department speaks for itself. It was in a state of readiness. And we had the nursing and the medical staff available. We had our nurse anaesthesias, we had our operating room nurses, and we had our critical care nurses and the doctors. We had internists, we had the accident and emergency doctors on duty, and they were able to respond. We organised staff to respective rooms, nurses and doctors, attendants, and we had security to do the control, we had nurses assigned to triage. And so really, honestly, we were able to respond efficiently and effectively.”

Jacqueline Woods for News 5.

The injured hospitalised at the K.H.M.H. are Melvin Rodriguez, Kareem Griffith, Jose Hernandez, Mariano Cruz, Miguel Samoa, Rene Guzman, Alejandro Madrid and Roberto Burgos. Three men remain at the Belmopan Hospital. They are Jose Leiva, Eduardo Aguirre and Jose Alas. All the injured men are believed to reside in the Belmopan area, with the exception of Roberto Burgos of San Ignacio.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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