Thu | Sep 19, 2019

Rio Grande Tragedy, 10 years later | The untold toll of a tragedy - Several dreams died that ill-fated night

Published:Thursday | December 20, 2018 | 12:00 AMCarlene Davis/Gleaner Writer
Lisann Lewis' dream of becoming a nurse died with her father Aaron Lewis, who was one of the 14 persons who died when a truck plunged into a ravine in the Rio Grande Valley on December 19, 2008.
Two men get close to the truck which plunged into a ravine leaving 14 people dead 10 years ago.

Lisann Lewis was one of approximately 50 children who lost a parent when a truck taking persons to the Coronation Market in Kingston plunged into a ravine in the Rio Grande Valley, Portland, on December 19, 2008. Fourteen persons, including Lisann's father, Aaron Lewis, died in the crash.

Then 12-year-old Lisann was in bed when her mother got the call that Aaron was in an accident. Ten years later, Lisann remembers every detail of that night.

"I was in bed, and everybody was at home when my mother got the call that the truck went over the gully, but it wasn't clear whether or not he was dead at the time. I started crying because anything was possible ... and when we heard how many people, we didn't think there were any survivors.

"I was devastated and traumatised for a while. Hard to get over. I can't tell you that I get over it even now," Lisann told The Gleaner in an interview to mark the 10th anniversary of the tragedy.

Lewis, who lived with her mother and two brothers in Comfort Castle at the time, said that she and one of her brothers were scheduled to be on the truck heading to Kingston that night as their father was taking them to get gifts for Christmas.

"But the truck left him, and him catch back the truck right around the road. He said that he was going to go on the Friday (truck) and then come back on the Saturday night and go back on the Sunday so that he could have given us what we wanted for the Christmas. So it would have been me and my brother dead as well, but I guess it worked out different," said Lisann.

She said that her father was the breadwinner of the family and even though he was not living with them at the time, the family was never in need.

"He was a great father. Him always provide for us, do anything for us to survive. He would do anything for us. Even though he would go to bush, he wouldn't take us with him. He said he didn't want us to have that life. He wanted a better life for us," added Lisann.

After her father's death, things took a turn for the worse as her mother was unemployed at the time. Her brother had to drop out of school, and most days, she couldn't attend.

"When I reached 11 grade, I was entered to do seven subjects, and I couldn't do it. I wasn't going to school frequently because my mother couldn't afford to send me to school, so I missed, like, one year out of school. Sometimes me go, sometimes me no go, so it never make any sense.

"My mother got me transferred the next year to another school because it was closer. I went there for, like, five months. I started school in February. I got recommended to do two subjects.

"When my mother seek around and finally got the money, I didn't think it was a good idea for me to do it because I missed a lot out of school, and I didn't want her to waste her money because she didn't have and had borrowed it from her sister. Plus, I didn't see in any way that I would pass the subjects, so I told her not to pay for them," said Lisann.


Refusing to give up her dreams


Having lost her father in the December 2008 tragedy in the Rio Grande Valley, Portland, Lisann has experienced a rough life owing to the passing of the breadwinner of her family. However, she has not given up on her ambitions despite not achieving the academic qualifications to pursue a career in nursing.

Now 22 years old, Lisann is the mother of two, unemployed, and lives in the community where she grew up.

"I have been doing nothing but jumping around like any other young girl would. I got pregnant when I was 18. I had my son when I was 19, and two years after, I got my daughter. If my father was still alive, I wouldn't have kids now.

"The accident changed everything. My life would have been better because if my father was alive, I would have been able to finish my subjects and, maybe, be in a better place now, but now, I am just stuck here because my mother didn't have a job, and my father was the breadwinner for all of us. So I guess that's just how it goes," said Lisann.

She is among the residents who are extremely disappointed that an announced revolving fund to assist the children of the victims of the crash fizzled when many needed it most.

"The Government didn't keep up its end because they told us that they were going to finance us in school until we reach the age of 18, and that didn't happen. It started at first and finished about a couple of months after. It lasted for about four or five months, and that's it," added Lisann.

"All I want right now is to actually get a skill. My dream was to always become a nurse, and while I don't see that happening now, I still want to go in the field, so something like practical nursing," said Lisann.