PHILIPSBURG–Witnessed by some of Bas de Haan’s family members in the public stands, as well as by relatives via video connection with the Netherlands, the trial of T.H. (26) started on Thursday. T.H. is suspected of killing popular physical education teacher at Milton Peters College (MPC) and avid cyclist in a tragic accident on Airport Boulevard on September 6, 2016.
The Prosecutor’s Office charged T.H. with speeding and reckless driving and is holding the driver of a black SUV responsible for the death of the 27-year-old teacher. The defendant was also charged with nearly hitting a second cyclist, who could barely jump out of the way.
The Prosecutor called for a one-year prison sentence, six months of which are to be suspended, with two years’ probation, with revocation of the suspect’s driver’s licence for two years, confiscation of his vehicle, and payment of US $7,080 in damages.
While cycling on Airport Boulevard in training for the Pedal to the Medal Challenge a few days later, De Haan was knocked down by T.H.’s SUV and died as a result of severe injuries.
De Haan, who hailed from Meedhuizen in the Netherlands, worked as a teacher in St. Eustatius for some time. In mid-2016 he moved to St. Maarten and began teaching at MPC just one month before the fatal accident. Memorials for the dead teacher were held on Statia and on St. Maarten.
Police reports indicated that the driver of the black Suzuki Vitara was speeding and overtaking two vehicles when he hit De Haan and ended up slamming his car into a GEBE housing structure in the vicinity of the Red Cross building.
De Haan was known to exercise in the area. His bike was shattered and he was left curled up in a foetal position on the road. When he was transported to St. Maarten Medical Center (SMMC) by ambulance, doctors originally pronounced him in critical condition before he passed away. His body was released to the family the next day.
T.H. on Thursday told the Court he was not speeding or driving recklessly. He explained that while driving from the Airport, where he had been working, into the direction of the Causeway Bridge, he tried to overtake a car when he noticed a cyclist riding in the lane for oncoming traffic. In trying to avoid a collision he veered his car off the road and crashed into a [GEBE structure – Ed.] while, hitting the cyclist with the right side of his vehicle.
Sighing heavily during questioning, the defendant said he is suffering of post-traumatic disorder since the accident. “I find it hard to speak about what happened,” he said. He denied having seen a second cyclist, but the prosecution provided camera images as proof of this.
The defendant claimed he was driving safely and that his car’s tires had traction on the road. There was no danger as he started to overtake the other vehicles, he said.
There were many witnesses of the rush-hour accident, who provided statements to the police. They said T.H. had been speeding, but he claimed he was driving between 40 and 60 kilometres per hour on the road with a maximum speed limit of 50 kilometres.
The defendant said he had not hit the brakes but had tried to reverse his vehicle in order to avoid a collision with the cyclist.
“I could only reverse to avoid a head-on collision. That is why I steered off the road…The victim probably panicked and to avoid a collision he changed his course from the middle of the road towards the right side of the lane and was hit by the right side of my car,” the defendant explained to the Judge. “If I were speeding my car would have been damaged more and I would have had a broken leg,” he claimed.
The first offender spent 26 days in pre-trial detention. “I get shivers and feel cold inside while speaking about the accident. It hurts inside to have taken a life but I cannot go back to prevent it from happening,” T.H. said in extending his “deepest condolences from the depth of my heart” to the family of the deceased.
“Hazard on the road”
The Prosecutor said the accident was caused by a series of wrong traffic actions. The defendant had displayed a “very careless and inattentive driving behaviour.” He said the defendant should not have been driving in such a “powerful” vehicle with three worn-down tires, which create a much longer brake path.
According to the prosecution, T.H. was a “hazard on the road” driving faster than other road users in the middle of the evening rush hour.
“While driving near Hertz car rental he drove past the ‘traffic island’ steering towards the lane for oncoming traffic in a life-threatening manoeuvre,” the Prosecutor said.
He failed to see the second cyclist and instead of stopping the car he accelerated and tried to overtake via the traffic island where he hit De Haan, “who had no chance at all.”
In calling upon the Court to find the defendant guilty as charged, the Prosecutor said that no punishment would compensate the irreparable suffering of the deceased’s family, partner, and friends.
In formulating the demand, the prosecutor took into account that the defendant had shown “much” remorse and had tried to take responsibility for what had happened. It was also taken into consideration that the defendant had not been under the influence of drugs or alcohol and had not previously been convicted of traffic offences.
Attorney-at-law Sjamira Roseburg pleaded for her client’s full acquittal. In expressing her compassion with the deceased’s family, she said her client had to live for the rest of his life with the notion that a young person had died in the accident.
However, she claimed her client was not to be blamed for the fatal incident and had not driven carelessly and dangerously.
Roseburg claimed that the investigation was rife with tunnel vision. “Is it really so difficult to believe and accept that this really was an accident?” she said.
The lawyer claimed that hailing from “cycle-crazy” Netherlands, De Haan was confronted with a totally different situation on St. Maarten with only very few cyclists on its roads. She said the public roads are of bad quality and are not suitable for cyclists.
Roseburg described the semi-professional cyclist as a “driven athlete and a fanatic cyclist” who used the Airport Boulevard’s “strip” for training in an aerodynamic position facing more towards the road than straight ahead.
The lawyer said that questions as to why the victim had not seen the car and avoided impact, or about the question whether he had perhaps seen the car too late and panicked, were not answered in the investigation.
She said that maybe there had been circumstances which made the cyclist veer towards the middle of the road, such as potholes, puddles or mud.
Her client had said that while he was overtaking the cyclist suddenly moved towards the centre of the road. In a fraction of a second T.H. decided to pull the steering wheel to the left to avoid a collision. Apparently the cyclist also scared, and perhaps in a reflex also steered to the right. As a result the cyclist hit the front of her client’s SUV at the right-hand side, the lawyer explained.
Roseburg called upon Government to take measures to better protect cyclists on the roads. Six days after the fatal accident Minister of Education, Culture, Youth Affairs and Sports Silveria Jacobs stated that: “Government has lots to do as well: better infrastructure, more warning signs and speed limits posted, awareness campaigns.”
In calling for action now Roseburg wondered how many road fatalities were needed before Government would take responsibility and take measures and spend money on public roads. “Do not let De Haan’s death be in vain. Enough is enough!” she said. The Court will give its decision May 24.
Source: The Daily Herald https://www.thedailyherald.sx/islands/65651-call-for-conviction-in-dead-cyclist-case