Man found guilty in driving deathMan found guilty in driving death
By Ben Greening
© Copyright by The Royal Gazette Ltd
Bermuda, January 15, 2000
A St. George's man was found guilty yesterday of unlawfully killing German student Catrin Schaefer in a 1998 road accident.
And although Mauritian-born Bissoonduthsing Ramchurn was released on $5,000 bail until sentencing, Puisne Judge Philip Storr advised him: "You'll likely have to go to prison for this offence".
After hearing the decision, Ms Schaefer's father Ludwig gave a written statement to The Royal Gazette.
It said: "Irrespective of the outcome of this trial, nothing will of course bring back our daughter. We would wish however that justice be done and that the defendant receives the sentence he deserves, no more and no less."
Almost three hours before, the jury had retired to deliberate on whether Ramchurn, a chef, was responsible for the unlawful killing of the 23-year-old student at Heinrich Heine University in Dusseldorf, who died following the crash in the early hours of September 27, 1998.
Ramchurn, 33, was also alternatively charged with, and denied, causing death by dangerous driving and also causing death by driving while over the legal alcohol limit, for which he also found guilty.
The convictions came after a week-long trial in which the five-man, seven-woman jury were enlightened as to the events leading up to the head-on collision, which happened at Stonecrusher Corner on Kindley Field Road.
The prosecution, represented by Crown counsel Sandra Bacchus, submitted testimonies from emergency personnel and civilians, hoping to prove that Ramchurn's "gross negligence" had directly resulted in his Toyota Starlet slamming into Ms Schaefer's rented scooter and her sustaining fatal head and spinal injuries, to which she succumbed hours afterwards in hospital.
Just before the accident, Ms Schaefer had been celebrating the end of a week-long biology trip to the Island, which had been hosted by the Bermuda Biological Station for Research.
But trip chaperone Professor Christopher Bridges testified that the student "only ordered Coke" during the social event at Swizzle Inn.
And friend Thorsten Kisters, who was riding his cycle just behind Ms Schaefer moments before the collision, said he was blinded by the headlights of a car going at "a high speed" and "on our side of the road".
Another Crown witness, accident investigator Sgt. Gary Venning, said his examination of the scene afterwards led him to surmise that Ramchurn's car had been "mostly on the wrong side of the road" when the two vehicles collided.
And he noted that believed it to be a "very high speed impact" due to the "extensive" damage that both the scooter and the car suffered.
Sgt. Venning said he had to "look twice" at the Ms Schaefer's vehicle "because it did not even look like a motor-cycle".
Other evidence revealed that Ramchurn failed a breathalyser test taken after the crash.
Results showed that he had 105 milligrams of alcohol to every 100 millilitres of blood, the legal limit being 80 milligrams to every 100 millilitres.
The defence's case, led by attorney Philip Perinchief, was mostly based on the cross-examination of Crown witnesses.
Suggestions were made throughout the trial of inefficiency in the Police investigation, that the crime scene was contaminated by through traffic and that the breathalyser machine had not provided accurate, reliable results.
But the crux of the defence rested around the testimony of Ramchurn himself, who denies that he was on the wrong side of the road or speeding and also stating he was not drunk.
Questioned by Mr. Perinchief, he said: "As I was driving I saw a lot of lights coming through the fence. When I turned the corner, one bike was on my side of the road."
Ramchurn also testified he had only had "one-and-a-half Guinesses" before getting into his car.
In summing-up, Mr. Perinchief called the Prosecution case an "embellishment of the facts" and added that evidence from Crown witnesses could not effectively make the jury sure of whether Ramchurn was on the wrong side of the road or not.
In closing her argument, Ms Bacchus suggested that their was "overwhelming" evidence to prove Ramchurn acted "recklessly" and with "gross negligence".
Yesterday, the jury retired to deliberate after being instructed in matters of law by Mr. Justice Storr.
Nearly three hours later, they emerged and the foreman announced they had found Ramchurn guilty of both manslaughter and of causing death by driving while over the legal alcohol limit.
Mr. Perinchief requested a Social Inquiry Report be made prior to sentencing on Feburary 23 and also that Ramchurn be released on bail until then.
Despite "strong" objections from the Crown, bail was agreed to in the amount of $5,000 with one like surety.
Ramchurn was ordered to surrender all travel documents and to report in three times a week at St. George's Police Station.
Mr. Justice Storr said: "I suggest you use this time to get your personal affairs in order. It is likely you will have to go to prison for this offence."
Afterwards, Mr. Perinchief refused to say whether he was planning an appeal or not, adding that he would have to consult with his client first.
And Ramchurn's wife Jaqueline declined to comment on her reaction to the verdict.
But Mr. Schaefer presented a prepared statement detailing how the family of the young woman felt.
It called Ms Schaefer a "happy, friendly person" who enjoyed life "to the full with a positive attitude".
"Since her death our lives have been changed irreversibly," it said. "The loss of our daughter has not only destroyed one life but the soul of a whole family."
It also asked that "the defendant receives the sentence he deserves" and that "justice be done, no more and no less".
The statement added: "If this can act as a serious deterrent to prevent even one more death caused by drinking and driving dangerously on the roads of Bermuda then the death of our daughter will not have been in vain."