Road safety campaign seeks to reduce accidents in Bog Walk GorgeTuesday, November 16, 2021
BY BRITTNY HUTCHINSON
WHEN Ricardo Stephenson — a past student of the Enid Bennett High School — lost his life in a crash in the Bog Walk Gorge, St Catherine, last year, Patrina Nelson was devastated.
His death prompted Nelson, who teaches at the institution, to develop a road safety campaign called 'Gorge on safety, not on speed' to help reduce accidents in the area, which is commonly known as a hot spot for road fatalities.
“I actually thought about it last year when the student died. He was just 19, he was a very promising young man and I was very devastated when I was told about his accident. Back in 2012, I met in an accident out there when my car overturned with my daughter and I. We came out and we were okay,” she said. But it was really the accident which killed Stephenson that gave the 48-year-old teacher the idea of starting the campaign.
“I thought that I could really make it into a national campaign; I reached out to the Road Safety Unit (RSU) last year and I got some statistics because I wanted it for my sponsorship letter, but I didn't pay much attention to the campaign until this year when I saw the accident with Elorine Smith's mother and I said I really needed to do this,” she added.
Nelson said she formed a committee called 'Guardians of the Gorge' with eight people who wanted to be a part of the campaign.
She pointed out that by frequently traversing the gorge to school, she noticed that there are no speed limit signs and 'no overtaking' signs.
“I found that shocking. I don't know if they were there before and were washed away but there is none currently. I thought that there should be at least speed limit signs to alert motorists. There are unbroken white lines on the road but I feel that if there are signs in people's faces, probably they will obey those signs,” she said.
According to Nelson, a meeting had been held with RSU in the Ministry of Transport and Mining and National Works Agency which provided technical advice and should be assessing where the road signs should be placed at the gorge.
Smith, whose mother died in the Rio Cobre after a crash on June 8, 2021, said she did not hesitate to be a part of the campaign with her siblings.
Smith's mother, 60-year-old Valerie Ennis, was travelling in a passenger bus which collided with a motor car in the gorge.
“This was her (Nelson's) brainchild, when she contacted me and told me of her campaign we said that since it was something that had started already then we would just be a part of it, instead of creating a whole different platform. It was something that my siblings and I were lobbying for so we decided to join forces with her,” she told the Observer.
Smith said she initially thought about the idea of seeking financial assistance to assist the divers in the gorge.
But through the campaign, a GoFundMe account has already been set up for road signs, gears and cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) training for divers who help to rescue people at the gorge.
“When I spoke to one of the divers at one point he was saying that they rescue people by taking them out the water then that's it. He also said that often times the vehicles are so far in the river that they have to come back up for air. Think about the time that they are coming back up, they could have probably saved that life already. If it's not even the full gear, oxygen tanks could help,” she said.
Smith's concern was corroborated by 28-year-old Daniel Gayle who was one of the five rescuers from Kent Village, St Catherine, recognised for contributions to the Rio Cobre Flood Early Warning System in 2019.
“We need some gear because it is risky for us when we are out there trying to save people. When we go in the water fi take out a person, if you don't know what you're doing, the person can drown yuh. We need someone to assist us so we can get some diving suits and some gear. We are out here volunteering. Nobody ever come back and give us any compensation which is fine because we are just doing our good,” he told the Observer in a recent interview.
According to Nelson, plans will be made with Jamaica Red Cross (JRC) to provide CPR training for the divers before they receive the gears and equipment.
The launch of the campaign was initially scheduled for November 25, but due to challenges with sponsorship, it should take place early next year.