Tough Call: Why Still No Action Over Deaths In Traffic Accident?
ANGRY questions are being raised about the tragic deaths of two Canadian retirees in a recent traffic accident on Exuma.
In a letter to Police Commissioner Ellison Greenslade this week, Bahamas Humane Society President Kim Aranha has asked whether charges will ever be filed against the hit and run driver.
Ron and Jill Gandza, both in their 50s, from St. Catharines, Ontario, were killed at about 10pm on April 25 while walking home from the Peace & Plenty Hotel. A car driven by a 26-year-old Exumian slammed into them – hurling Mrs Gandza 10 feet off the road and striking her husband with such force that his head smashed the car windshield.
The driver then fled, leaving Mr Gandza lying dead in the middle of the road and his wife critically injured in the bush. A passerby arrived on the scene shortly afterwards and contacted the clinic.
According to former Ministry of Tourism official Cordell Thompson, who lives in Rolleville and knows the passerby who tried to help, “the accident occurred about a three-minute walk from the clinic, yet it took over 40 minutes for them to receive attention. The emergency phone number here is never answered. This is a tale of horrors.”
The driver then fled, leaving Mr Gandza lying dead in the middle of the road and his wife critically injured in the bush.
Jill Gandza later died of her injuries. She was a retired nurse at Niagara Health System. Ron Gandza worked for General Motors in St Catherine’s. They had been visiting the Bahamas for years and recently bought a small retirement home in George Town.
Meanwhile, the driver of the hit and run vehicle received minor injuries and was later treated at the clinic. He was initially picked up for questioning by the police, but in the days after the accident he was seen attending the George Town regatta.
On April 29, Police Inspector Harry Williams told The Tribune that “we are past the initial stage of the investigation and no one is expected to be charged.”
But on May 2 Inspector Chrislyn Skippings said charges would soon be brought against the driver, who lives in Bahama Sound.
Superintendent Macktavaus Daniels, of the George Town Police Station, also said charges would be laid, but added there was “no evidence” that the driver was intoxicated at the time of the accident. The driver has never been publicly identified, but works as a ferry boat operator.
“Surely the brutal force that impacted Ron and caused his head to break the windshield of the car that hit him is evidence that the car was moving at high speed,” Aranha said. “Was a test performed to check the driver’s blood alcohol level?”
Almost a month after the accident, no charges have been filed, and official treatment of the case has both appalled and baffled friends and relatives of the dead couple.
“The bodies were held in Exuma (at a local funeral home) whilst ‘undergoing investigation’,” Aranha said. “Their unit was sealed off from friends wishing to secure their personal belongings. Then their bodies were in Nassau, weren’t in Nassau, were in Nassau. Every five minutes, a different story.”
Aranha, who was a close friend of the Gandzas, said the family also received multiple conflicting stories from different police sources.
“One thing for sure is that the driver was out of custody in time to enjoy the George Town Regatta party, whilst Jill and Ron were lying dead on a slab in a morgue,” she said.
“In Nassau, the family was asked for money to help speed up the autopsies so the bodies could be cremated in time for them to take the ashes back to Canada. But death certificates were not forthcoming for several days, and the bodies were not cremated until the family had long returned to their jobs in Canada,” Aranha said.
Aranha also asked the Commissioner whether the driver had a valid drivers license, and whether the car was licensed and insured. “I beg you to use your authority to see that due process is followed in this case, and that friends and family of the deceased are fully informed as to the particulars of that process.”
She concluded that “the lack of accountability in the deaths of two innocent people is simply astounding”.
One Exuma resident told me the lack of action was most likely due to islanders closing ranks against outsiders: “It’s like Dodge City here. So many things happen by stealth.”
A memorial tribute to Ron and Jill Gandza is scheduled for 5:30pm on Saturday, May 25, at Compass Point. A memorial fund has also been set up at the Bahamas Humane Society to receive donations for an animal care facility in their name.
By LARRY SMITH
From the ‘Tough Call’ column in The Tribune