Last Thursday December 3, the Court upheld a no-case submission by the firm of Hughes, Fields & Stoby, attorneys for Best, by ruling that the Prosecution had failed to establish that their client caused the death of national cyclist Jude Bentley by dangerous driving.
Bentley was on an early morning practice ride when the accident took place. However there were no witnesses to the collision and the Prosecution did not dispute the testimony of the former GDF Chief of Staff.
Following the accident, the Police issued a statement indicating that Best was found to be above the legal limit for alcohol while operating a vehicle. But the police admitted to the court, that the breathalyser kit used to test the accused had not been calibrated in more than a year when it should have been calibrated every six months
The Court’s decision to find Gary Best not guilty was analysed by Ronald J. Daniels, who noted that “when Jude lost his life, it touched many hearts and excited many emotions, even mine.”
The following is an analysis of the case by Ronald Daniels in an article he wrote, the full text of which is published below.
When Jude lost his life, it touched many hearts and excited many emotions, even mine.” And I am certain that it touched the hearts of countless people who did not know him personally, and even those who knew nothing about him at all.
I did not know Jude and neither did I know anything about him, but I was moved immensely. Jude was a giant in the cycling world. From the overwhelming public outpourings, it was clear that he impacted and influenced many lives immensely...positively. I recall how Kay and my heart sank when we passed his funeral procession along Movie Towne.
The decision of the Court today that Gary Best was not criminally responsible for Jude’s death naturally angered many people. To many people it certainly will seem that justice was not served. I imagine for Jude’s family this event might have ripped open wounds that have only started mending and deepen other wounds which have not even mended at all. This certainly is understandable.
There is a wealth of comments being expressed in the public space. Some are speculating that monies were paid in a corrupt way to produce today’s decision. I understand that some commentators have even revived the death of Nigel Hughes’ mother, whom herself died in an accident. It is unfortunate, though understandable, our expressions have taken these forms.
I understand that some of my colleagues in the profession have also expressed their outrage. I will say a word about this a tad later.
I have read the media reports, and, unfortunately, the media have not captured in even a remotely accurate way what transpired during the course of Best’s trial. Perhaps I can assist with this and offer you a deeper insight into what transpired during the trial. This way, whatever your views and feelings are, would be, I hope, at least a tad more informed.
Best was charged for the offence of causing the death of Bentley by dangerous driving. The prosecutor needed to prove the following:
1. That Best drove in a manner far below the standard expected of a careful and competent driver;
2. That it would be obvious to a careful and competent driver that driving in that way would be dangerous; and
3. That Best’s driving in this manner resulted in death of Bentley.
To prove this, the prosecution had to provide the court with adequate evidence. The prosecution relied on the testimonies of its witnesses as well as video footage. The prosecutor called eight (8) witnesses in support of its case. Among those witnesses were Bentley, Snr., the investigating officer, the officer who conducted the breathalyser test (test for alcohol content in Best’s breath), the officer who extracted the video footage, and the officer who took the photographs.
Before we take a closer look at the evidence, there is something that should be made clear early on. Best had never disputed that Bentley died as a result of a collision between his motor vehicle and Bentley’s pedal cycle.
What the prosecution needed to prove, and the court had to decide, was whether this collision was due to Best driving in a dangerous manner as defined by the law. This, as we say in law, was the contentious issue.
Now back to the evidence. Perhaps a good place to start is with the evidence of the officer who conducted the breathalyser test. Shortly after the accident it was disclosed by the media that Best was well beyond the legal limit of alcohol for one who mans a motor vehicle. This naturally had heightened the public outrage and caused more negative weight to bear on the emotions of the general public. I imagine the public received this as, ‘Best who was drunk at the time knocked down and killed Bentley.’
The officer in his testimony noted that the machine was last calibrated (properly adjusted for testing) over a year before it was used to test the level of alcohol in Best’s system. The machine properly has to be adjusted every six months.
There is also a specified time limit, according to law, between which the tests should be carried out. This too the officer noted was not done. And all of this information was captured on the test result slip of both tests that were conducted. The officer himself concluded in his evidence that the test was unreliable. According to law, the Court could not rely on this evidence.
The video footage showed Bentley entering and leaving the roundabout by the seawall to head up the East Coast side. He entered on the inside lane, the left-hand lane. Sometime after he entered Best’s vehicle is seen entering as well. Two vehicles were behind Best. He carefully navigated the roundabout and entered the East Coast road (Clive Lloyd Drive). At this stage there was nothing to suggest that he was not driving carefully.
Another footage shows Bentley passing on his bicycle in between some buildings. He appeared to still be in the inside (left) lane. Sometime after Best vehicle is seen passing. Neither Bentley nor Best could have been seen for another seventeen (17) seconds because they were blocked out from the camera’s view by buildings and trees. And then by another clearing, Best’s vehicle appeared to have had its breaks applied as if it came into contact with something and Bentley is not seen again. It is believed that it was at that point that the accident occurred.
The Court described the seventeen (17) seconds as the crucial seconds. There was nothing in the footage to suggest that Best was not driving carefully and competently before Bentley and him were lost by the camera for those seventeen (17) seconds. The prosecution did not provide any evidence to explain how the accident occurred. And this was difficult for the prosecution to do because there were no eye witnesses to the accident and there was the blind spot of the camera.
The accident occurred in the outside lane (the overtaking lane). The investigating officer accepted in evidence that the lane in which the accident occurred is the overtaking lane. It appeared that when he appreciated the inference of this admission, he changed his testimony to say that motor vehicles drive in either lane and that no lane is reserved as the overtaking lane.
The Court pointed this out in its decision. The Court also took judicial notice (accepted upon its own authority) that according to law the inside lane (left) is what should be used except when overtaking or when some other circumstance demands departure from that lane. The prosecution led no evidence to explain how Bentley who was in the left lane throughout the video footage ended up in the right lane within the crucial seventeen (17) seconds.
It was brought out in the evidence of the prosecution that Best remained at the scene of the accident until the police and ambulance came. He did not flee or attempt to. He surrendered his documents to the police which were all up-to-date. He was composed when he was engaged by the police officers. His actions were not consistent with one who was prevailed upon by alcohol. He readily submitted himself to the breathalyser test, which is routinely carried out in those circumstances.
When asked by the police how the accident occurred, Best indicated that he was driving at a slow rate of speed and that when he got to the vicinity where the accident occurred a pedal cyclist suddenly appeared in front of his vehicle. He could not say where the pedal cyclist came from. He applied his brakes and sought to avoid colliding with the cyclist by veering to the right towards the median separating the traffic going up the East Coast and that coming down from the East Coast. Though he sought to avoid the collision, the right side of his motor vehicle came into contact with the pedal cyclist, he mounted the median, and he hit a lamp pole. The accident report showed that the bulk of the damages sustained to Best’s vehicle was on the right side.
The prosecution led no evidence to establish the speed Best was driving at. Neither did the prosecution witnesses give evidence of what is the speed limit where the accident occurred. The court took judicial notice that the speed limit at that time was 80 kilometres per hour. The court noted also that speed alone does not amount to dangerous driving. And there is no evidence to suggest that Best was driving speed.
According to the law, Best had nothing to prove. The state brought the charge against him, so the prosecution had the burden of proving its case against Best. Be this as it may, the prosecution led no evidence to contradict the version of events given by Best.
The Court formed the view that Best’s actions did appear to be that of someone who attempted to avoid a collision upon the sudden emergence of someone in his pathway. The damage sustained to the vehicle, concentrated as it is, seems to support Best’s version of events of veering to the right, mounting the median, and hitting down the lamp pole (which was photographed by the prosecution witness and tendered into evidence in court).
The Court observed that the prosecution’s evidence leaves more questions than answers as to what transpired during those crucial seventeen (17) seconds. The Court noted that the prosecution’s case left several gaps that the Court could not fill by speculation.
The magistrate’s judgment was quite comprehensive. She left no stones unturned. Frankly, this is perhaps one of the most comprehensive judgments of a magistrate that I have come across in my practice both in Trinidad and Guyana. I imagine this would be made available for public consumption. I trust that this helps to clear up a few things.
To my colleagues in the profession who have taken a sensational view of this case, I took it for granted that if anything our profession taught us is that the actual evidence in any matter may paint a radically different picture from its sensational projections.
- Countries: Guyana