Even as she lies confined to a hospital bed, her neck and hip braced because of excruciating injuries she sustained in a road traffic accident a week ago, Isabel G. Bennett, a well-known lecturer in the Department of Nursing at the University of Belize and an activist in her field, has pledged to start a movement for victims of road traffic accidents and their families, who are often left out in the cold to grapple in the aftermath.
She has suffered a fractured hip and three hairline fractures in her cervical spine – c3, c4 and c5. She wears a neck brace to avoid further injury—which should be avoided at all cost to avert the risk of paralysis.
Bennett, a resident of Ladyville, Belize District, was returning home from Belmopan last Tuesday night when the non-stop James Bus in which she was riding was involved in a collision with a towhead truck which was transporting a tractor. Bennett said that it was after 7:00 in the night and the road was “very dark” – what she believes was one of the contributing factors to the accident.
“Why is our country so lacking?” Bennett questioned, noting that in other countries, the highways are usually very well-lit.
More shocking, though, was her revelation that a week after the accident, the police had yet to visit her to take a statement, and no one from the bus company had contacted her.
“What I find very strange is that no police has come to get a police statement, no one from the company has come by to investigate or to find out what happened, how I would be compensated or anything like that and I truly don’t believe that anybody’s life should be disrupted this way as a result of [a company’s] disregard for traffic laws. I certainly don’t believe that my life should certainly not have been disrupted like that or anybody else’s life, or the other women on the bus… or any of the passengers because even though they may not have been physically injured, the reality is every time they get on a bus, they will recall what happened,” she told us.
Local media have reported that the driver of the truck knew that the tractor he was towing posed a risk. Oddly, police have yet to issue a report on the incident, and our request for an official report has so far gone unanswered. We have also been unable to speak with the bus company for comment, despite several calls to them.
Isabel Bennett told us that she took the second seat behind the driver and was texting her loved ones when her “very frightening” experience began to unfold. She heard a loud bang and slid across the seat, and ended up beside a lady in the adjacent seat. She asked the lady what had just happened and the lady told her that they had been in an accident. Isabel saw the bus driving through the bushes in the blackness of the night, and prayed for mercy, that her life would be spared for the sake of her two children, she said.
At first, Isabel did not realize that she had been injured, but she soon began to sense a pain in her left hip, which began to swell due to internal bleeding. It became more and more painful. The swelling started to extend to her armpit, and she realized that she had, indeed, been badly hurt.
It seemed as if they were waiting forever for an ambulance, and when they took her to the Western Regional Hospital, she was stabilized and then shuttled to the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital (KHMH) in Belize City, where she remains hospitalized at the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). She had to receive 8 pints of blood and underwent a laparotomy — exploratory surgery to check the condition of her internal organs.
Several others on the bus were also injured in the accident, including Oscar Cal, the driver, who claimed that he was sure that he had cleared the cab of the truck, but then felt a bang on the driver’s side. Bennett said that the driver sustained injuries to the head and arm. He, too, had to be hospitalized.
Media images showed that the left side of the bus had been ripped open by the protruding blade of the tractor which the towhead was taking to Spanish Lookout. The accident happened a few miles out of Belmopan, around Mile 40 on the George Price Highway, and the driver said that because of the risk the tractor posed, he was intending to lodge in Roaring Creek that night. However, he claimed that when he saw the bus approaching, he pulled to the extreme side of the road. We reiterate that no official police report has been released on the accident.
Bennett believes that the company should have an insurance scheme in place to provide compensation for commuters who are injured in such accidents.
We checked with Transport Commissioner Crispin Jeffries, and he confirmed to us that by law, commuter buses are required to have passenger liability insurance; however, he told us that he could not indicate at the time what terms would apply for the James Bus accident.
Had Isabel been traveling in a vehicle provided by her employer, she would be entitled to claim employment injury from the Belize Social Security Board; however, Dylan Reneau, president of the National Trade Union Congress of Belize, told Amandala that Isabel’s case is a classic one which drives home a point they have been trying to get through to the Government – that workers who use public transport or commuter buses should also be covered for employment injury.
In fact, Reneau told us that a vast majority of commuting workers are not provided with transport by their employer, and this, therefore, exposes them to substantial financial risk, in the event that they are injured going to or from work and do not have insurance.
Reneau told us that the unions will continue to press for reforms to the Social Security legislation, to protect workers like Isabel.
Bennett, who has been bedridden for the past week, said that the road to recovery will be a long one, and it could take as many as 6 weeks for her hip fracture to heal. She anticipates that even after overcoming that leg of her road to recovery, she will need further specialized therapy to return to full mobility, some of which may have to be done overseas.
“My advocacy actually begins on my bed of recovery…” Bennett told us.
She said that she will research to find out what exists in law, as well as what is needed to protect victims and their families. She recalls several other instances where persons have fallen victim – some of them having lost their lives – and yet neither they nor their families were compensated for their losses.
Whereas Isabel is grateful to the Almighty that her life has been spared in the accident, she said that she is very concerned for her loved ones, who have suffered much grief and her 21-year-old son, Marcus, a UB nursing student, who now has to assume the role she has been playing as the head of the single-parent household. She said that it must be very traumatic for him to see her laid up in the ICU.
Marcus now has to take care of the rest of her family – Isabel’s 16-year-old daughter as well as her grandmother and granduncle, 93 and 95, respectively, who live at home with them. She is thankful for very good friends who have been providing valuable support and help.
Isabel told us that she has lived a very active life, and she usually wakes up at 4:30 in the morning, does her morning devotion, hits the streets for 3.5 miles of jogging, and then prepares breakfast and gets ready to start her work day at the University of Belize, 50 miles away in Belmopan.
Bennett said that she still has not gotten a full explanation of what exactly caused the accident, as she has only been getting “bits and pieces” of information suggesting that the bus had collided with a tractor.
Bennett—who had not eaten for seven days at the time of our interview and who was only able to sip water—told us that in trying to seek justice, she will leave no stone unturned.