General — 05 March 2016 — by Rowland A. Parks
Former mayor ordered to pay more compensation to his accident victims’ family

BELIZE CITY, Wed. Mar. 2, 2016–This morning, three Court of Appeal Justices heard an appeal brought by the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions against a Supreme Court trial judge’s sentence imposed upon former Orange Walk Town mayor, Ravell Gonzalez, who had knocked down and killed two persons in a traffic accident in June 2008. The trial judge, Justice John “Troadio” Gonzalez, had imposed a fine of $4,000 for each death, and $1,000 compensation to the families of the victims after a jury of four men and five women found Gonzalez guilty on August 3, 2015.

President of the Court of Appeal, Mr. Justice Manuel Sosa, in delivering the decision after both sides had made submissions, said, “The application for leave to appeal is allowed and the application is treated as the appeal which is allowed. The court orders as follows: The order of the trial judge is set aside and we substitute for it the following; the respondent is to pay a fine of $8,000 within two years of today’s date. He is to further pay the sum of $10,000 in compensation to the family of Markita Lopez. That also is payable within two years from today’s date; in default of either payment, 9 months in prison.”

Justice Sosa noted, however, that $9,000 has already been paid into the registry of the court below and is treated as part payment of the above-mentioned sum of $18,000.

Gonzalez had already paid $1,000 in compensation that was ordered by Justice Gonzalez, the Court of Appeal noted, so that amount is credited toward the new $10,000 compensation order.

At the opening of the hearing, Justice Sosa asked why it is that the case had taken so long. “I think, there was a delay of about 5 years, and I think this trial was about two years ago,” remarked Justice Sosa. Justice Sosa added, “This does not reflect very well on your office, Madam Director. What do you think the public thinks about that? You have to be more concerned about the image of your office.”

DPP Cheryl-Lynn Vidal, who argued the case with the assistance of Crown Counsel Sheiniza Smith, explained to the court that Gonzalez’s attorney had sought and received many adjournments, because he (Gonzalez) was out of the country studying.

When the court had asked the DPP what would she, submit by way of assistance to the court, Vidal suggested that a figure close to $10,000 be imposed in addition to compensation to the victims.

In the appeal, Gonzalez was represented by attorney Tricia Pitts-Anderson, who told the court that the court below should have imposed one sentence, because the incident arose out of one set of circumstances. Pitts-Anderson said that the fine of $4,000 for each victim was adequate, but conceded that the compensation of $1,000 “seems to be low.”

The appeal was heard by Justices Manuel Sosa, Minet Hafiz and Murillo Ducill.

On the night of June 15, 2008, Gonzalez was returning to his Orange Walk Town home when he knocked down Manuel Coto, who was riding his bicycle on the side of the highway around Miles 35. Coto was riding Markita Lopez, a two-year-old, on his handlebar. Gonzalez’s victims were from Rhaburn Ridge. Lopez’s father and mother, Martha Lopez Garcia and Miguel Lopez Perera, were walking right behind when the accident happened. The family, was reportedly going home from a wake.

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