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'I need justice for my son’ - Mother seeks adequate compensation three years after son died during cross-country meet

Published:Thursday | June 29, 2017 | 12:00 AMDania Bogle
Pauline Dennis, mother of the late Cavahn McKenzie.
Natalie Neita-Headley
Minister of Sports Olivia Grange

Pauline Dennis, the mother of late St Jago High athlete Cavahn McKenzie, who collapsed and died while representing Jamaica at the 2014 North America, Caribbean, and Central American Area Cross-Country Championships in Trinidad and Tobago, is still awaiting adequate compensation.

McKenzie died on February 22, 2014, at age 18 at the meet, which was hosted at the Mount Irvine Golf Course on the island of Tobago.

The Trinidad Express newspaper reported the National Association of Athletics Administrations (NAAA) public relations officer Peter Samuel as saying that an autopsy conducted on the athlete in Trinidad had “confirmed a massive heart attack”. However, a second autopsy done in Jamaica proved inconclusive.

Dennis, who travelled all the way from Annotto Bay, St Mary, on Tuesday to speak to The Gleaner, said that she had been promised compensation from the Government. She added that she had received a $150,000 insurance payout from St Jago but believes that she is due more.

“It’s like a worst nightmare for me. I need justice for my son because I didn’t send him away sick, and he came back in a casket. Somebody has to be held responsible for my son’s death,” she said.

However, Natalie Neita-Headley, who was the minister with responsibility for sports at the time, said that the Government had done all it could for the family, including covering all funeral expenses, which, according to an invoice Dennis represented to The Gleaner, amounted to $448,700.

“The Government did its best to provide what it could for the family. We had assisted with funeral arrangements and two (Food For the Poor) houses because the family was in a really desperate situation,” she said.

Neita-Headley said that the Government had also paid US$4,500 for McKenzie’s coffin to be airlifted from Trinidad.


Neita-Headley noted that the boy did not have his own insurance, while the JAAA at the time did not have insurance for persons representing the country at international meets, and the only coverage would have been provided through the meet organisers themselves.

“Each (overseas) meet is covered by insurance. He was insured only by, at that time, his school and whatever insurance would be offered by the meet directors. The JAAA (Jamaica Athletics Administrative Association) could only file a claim on his behalf, and that was up to the insurance company to determine if cause of death was accidental or due to a pre-existing condition,” Neita-Headley explained.

She added that the Government completed the paperwork on the family’s behalf.

“We assisted the process because I felt so passionate about it. He didn’t have many records, so we had to be doing a lot of research. Quite a lot of work was done to get that together. The actual filing of the claim would have been through the JAAA. I recall that generally, the North American, Central American and Caribbean Athletic Association ( NACAC) had indicated that the insurers thought that based on results from the autopsy, he had a pre-existing condition, which would have led to his demise,” she said, adding that she no longer had access to paperwork, which had been left at the ministry’s office when she demitted office in February last year.

The Gleaner contacted JAAA president Dr Warren Blake, who said that it was difficult to recall the particulars of a matter that happened three years ago. However, he did say that no sporting association could file an individual claim on anyone’s behalf.
Neita-Headley said that she had recommended that the family seek the services of an attorney.

“The lawyer would press the case for any further advocacy on behalf of the family. That would have been the right way to go- for the lawyer to press the case on behalf of the family for any compensation,” she said.

Dennis said that she had contacted an attorney who was pursuing the matter for a time but had since abandoned the case.

The Gleaner contacted current Minister of Sport Olivia Grange, who said that she would try to assist in whatever way she could.

“I have to take a second look at it and see what I can do. My office will be in touch with her,” she said.