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Ffriend in need! National basketballer seeks gov't support to beat jail time in Serbia

Published:Monday | August 11, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Ffriend - File

Leighton Levy, Gleaner Writer

"If I am not Usain Bolt, I can't get any help!" This is the cry of frustration from Jamaican basketball player Kimani Ffriend, who for the past two years has been living a nightmare in Serbia.

At one stage, he hoped that country would be the stage for the glorious ending of a journeyman career.

Instead, it could become the place where he spends several years in jail.

Ffriend, 35, last represented Jamaica at the Centro Basketball Championships in Mexico on June 2012. It is where Jamaica historically qualified for the elusive Tournament of the Americas.

Five months later, however, he was the driver of a gray Skodia Fabia motorcar that struck and killed Nevena Dragutinovic, a 30-year-old Serbian account executive, on the morning of November 3.

awaiting trial

While awaiting trial, he was jailed for 10 months in a Serbian prison, but was released to house arrest in August 2013, after his life was threatened by fellow inmates.

Following the accident, the six-foot-eleven centre, who was somewhat of a sports hero prior to the accident - having played for KK FMP Beograd - very quickly became a pariah.

Throughout his trial, that began in March 2013, the judge reportedly displayed clear biases, which prompted his attorney - during closing arguments - to call for her removal, causing the case to be suspended.

The court has denied the call for the judge to be removed, and the matter is to resume at the end of this month, when Ffriend will know if he goes to prison or somehow walks away from what now appears a never-ending nightmare.

During this time, Ffriend said he reached out to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but has been greeted with a cold shoulder.

"A Denise Sealy, counsellor to the Jamaican ambassador to Germany, came here, I think in May, to see me. But nothing has transpired since then. But they have responded to me and have been nice. But the ministry has not!" he said. "Through my personal contact in Jamaica, who knows the minister personally, said he does not want to be involved."

Efforts to reach Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade A.J. Nicholson proved unsuccessful.

Ffriend, in the meantime, says he understands that the Government is not in a position to intervene on a legal matter such as his; however, he believes there are things it can do.

"They can't intervene, but this is not what I am asking. They are obligated and can send a letter to the ministry here through the proper channels, diplomatically voicing their concern about my situation, and make the proper authorities aware that my country is supporting me and that they should uphold my rights according to international law. They can do that. They know who they need to talk to," he said. "Just show you care, and let me have a voice!"

accident unavoidable

Prosecutors contend that Ffriend was drunk, ran a traffic light, and slammed into the Serbian woman, who was out with her sister and friends celebrating.

However, Ffriend's attorney, Tintor Jugoslav, contends that the Jamaican, even though moderately intoxicated on the night of the accident (his blood alcohol level was reportedly .098), even if he had been sober, could not have avoided hitting Dragutinovic, who had just alighted from a taxi cab that had stopped in the middle of the road across from a bakery in Belgrade.

Evidence was brought that the road was wet, the victim was drunk (her blood alcohol level reportedly well over 1.5) and that the statements given by her friends and twin sister were contradictory.

Expert witnesses also testified that because of the conditions - a poorly lit street; a thunderstorm had reportedly blown the lights out on the street and made the road surface wet and slippery - not only would it have been difficult to see, but it would have also been impossible for the Jamaican to avoid hitting the woman as she stepped out of the cab and into the path of the moving car.