‘I pray God heals my broken heart’
Lamenting lack of apology, mom says school, truck owner also culpable in son’s death
Japhene Campbell’s face was raw with grief and her tears ran down her cheeks moments after Justice Leighton Pusey sentenced Alten Brooks to one year and seven months in prison on manslaughter charges following the 2019 accident which claimed the...
Japhene Campbell’s face was raw with grief and her tears ran down her cheeks moments after Justice Leighton Pusey sentenced Alten Brooks to one year and seven months in prison on manslaughter charges following the 2019 accident which claimed the life of her only son, Benjamin Bair.
The pain was also evident on Alten Brooks’ face as the 55-year-old who was driving the ill-fated truck that day learned of his fate.
Seven-year-old Benjamin was killed when a faulty truck, which had gone to collect garbage at the Clan Carthy Primary School, moved off after the driver exited the unit and crashed into a motor vehicle before overturning on the youngster, crushing him to death.
Looking on as Brooks sat in the dock before her on Monday, Campbell could see Brooks’ hunched shoulders.
She had hoped that he would not go to prison, but she also wished he had said sorry to her.
“We cannot change back the hands of time, but I see [how] his actions led to my son’s death ... . He come out of the truck, knowing that he should be inside there ... [as it] was defective and not roadworthy ... ,” she told The Gleaner.
“I don’t know what I would have said to him, but I think he should have said something to me. He did even say sorry. It would make me feel a little better … ,” she added.
Campbell believes the school and the truck’s owner should also be liable for the tragedy and does not consider Brooks’ sentencing as justice for Benjamin’s death.
“We are literally suffering. Everybody misses Benjamin. We have literally lost a great one. I miss him so much. Oh, God. I pray and I ask God to heal my broken heart, but every day it hits me just the same. ... Some persons would say you have two daughters left and all of that, but I know that I put in the work and make sacrifices for my children ... ,” the 30-year-old mom said, rocking from side to side with sadness reflecting in her eyes.
The burden of the incident left Benjamin’s grandfather, who he called dad, with a stroke.
In handing down the sentence, Justice Pusey rejected a plea agreement reached with the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP) for a non-custodial sentence and a fine not exceeding $800,000.
Brooks’ lawyer, Davion Vassell, told the court that his client took the plea deal the first time it was offered, and according to him, although the accident took the life of the promising first-grader, it was just an unfortunate accident.
Vassell had asked the judge to consider imposing a non-custodial sentence, highlighting that members of Brooks’ community had asked for leniency, given that it was an accident. He also proposed that a fine, a suspended sentence or probation be considered as Brooks was not a criminal. He asked the judge to consider whether the case was one of the most egregious kinds where only incarceration would suffice.
Justice Pusey said, however, that Brooks should be incarcerated as his actions on the day were careless and reckless and caused the death of the youngster.
“What the judge started to do was to distinguish the case that I had presented to him which was the authority on causing death by dangerous driving. The fact that he was distinguishing the case that Mr Brooks was not in the truck at the time, he was, therefore showing reason to depart from the case presented. That’s why I knew he was heading to a custodial sentence,” Vassell said after the sentence.
“I am, in fact, disappointed, but at the end of the day, what we are presented with is really a difference in opinion on law, not necessarily the facts, which are established, but whether or not the judge really should have departed from what appears to be clear jurisprudence which is non-custodial in nature,” Vassell told The Gleaner.
Campbell’s attorney, Jacqueline Cummings, said it was a “difficult case as there was no precedent for anything such”.
She told The Gleaner: “ It was not a situation where the person was actually driving the vehicle and had met in a motor vehicle collision. So we had to find cases where a similar situation occurred and what the court, whether in Jamaica or otherwise, would have done in such circumstances. We have no such similar case here in Jamaica.”
She said the ODPP advised her of the plea arrangement and she agreed with the findings of the research. She also did her own research.
A crestfallen Brooks, dressed in a plaid shirt, blue jeans, slippers and navy blue socks, hung his head throughout the proceedings, bowing even lower when the sentence was handed down.
He was handcuffed and led out of the courtroom by two female members of the constabulary.