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Andre Simon’s Story: The debilitating cost of a road accident

This is the first in a series of stories that will explore the impact of road traffic accidents on families. The stories will focus on the factors which led to the current condition of national cyclist Andre Simon and the gaps in law and policy that should be changed to lift the burden off the victim’s family.

National cyclist, 35-year-old Andre Simon is in Houston, Texas miles away from his home in Antigua – 2,288 miles to be exact.

He took a plane ride to arrive there and has thousands of families, friends and well-wishers cheering him on, hoping that he makes it to the last leg of his race.

But as thrilling as it may sound, rallying behind a record-breaker like Simon and despite the wishes of his family and friends, he is not overseas training for an event or on vacation with his 11-year-old son. Instead, he has been fighting for his life in various hospitals since May 8, 2022.

Simon and three other cyclists, Sean Weathered, Ghere Coates and Tiziano Rosignoli were riding their bikes on Mother’s Day when Kenyatta Benjamin hit each cyclist individually knocking them off their bikes and stopping involuntarily after hitting Andre, and knocking him to the ground unresponsive.

They were all transported by ambulance from the scene of the incident on Sir George Walter Highway to the Sir Lester Bird Medical Centre (SLBMC) where all but one was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).

While the three other cyclists have been battling their own physiological traumas from that day, the accident left Simon physically paralyzed. He eats through a feeding tube and has unable to speak or to walk for several months.

The care required to rehabilitate him is not available in Antigua and is extremely expensive in the United States.

His family, unwilling to let him die, has been placed under tremendous financial and emotional burden. They are now working to reduce a debt of over XCD$1 million in their attempt to pay for his recovery at U.S hospitals.

Since the local hospital did not have the capacity to care for him, he had to be airlifted to a specialized hospital in Texas, USA (TIRR Memorial Hospital) in July 2022.

This required tremendous amount of funds which came from private citizens, the government of Antigua and Barbuda, insurance, and family savings.

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The funds cover the costs of ambulance, consultation, diagnostic tests, hospital stay and treatment as well as the purchase of medicines.

However, fund raising efforts have slowed down and the family funds are completely depleted especially after both his sister and mother left their jobs to be in Texas with Andre’s son Antwone.

Andre still requires intensive rehabilitation and specialist care to have a fighting chance at walking, talking or even eating on his own.

Meanwhile, Benjamin – the motorists who nearly ended this man’s life – remains on bail, waiting for his case to be heard.

Are the penalties for dangerous driving in Antigua and Barbuda adequate?

Kenyatta Benjamin, a 39-year-old man from Hatton was charged by police with dangerous driving following the Mother’s Day incident. On February 9, 2023 Kenyatta Benjamin will hear from a Magistrate in St. John’s, Antigua whether his case of dangerous driving will be sent to the High Court for trial.

But even the penalties he faces amount to the significant burden borne by Simon’s family as he is not mandated to help pay for the cyclist’s medical treatment or airlifts or even medication.

In fact, according to Antigua & Barbuda’s Road Traffic Act Benjamin only faces a maximum sentence of two years in prison for dangerous driving and as little as a fine of $2500 while Simon remains alive.

The Act states that:

(a) on summary conviction for a first offence to a penalty of twenty-five hundred dollars and to imprisonment for six months and for a second and every subsequent offence to a penalty of five thousand dollars and to imprisonment for a term of twelve months;

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(b) on conviction on indictment to imprisonment with or without hard labour for a term not exceeding two years, or to a fine, or both such imprisonment and fine.

The sentence is not much harsher, if the victim of the accident dies though, as the law states that:

57. (1) Any person who causes the death of another person by the driving of a motor vehicle on a road recklessly, or at a speed or in a manner which is dangerous to the public, having regard to all the circumstances of the case including the nature, condition and use of the road, and the amount of traffic which is actually at the time, or which might reasonably be expected to be, on the road, shall be liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years.

While the law runs its course, the victim’s family continues to bear the long-term financial costs of keeping their loved one alive.

Want to help Andre’s Family?

The individuals and corporate partners who want to help raise funds towards Andre Simon’s care can follow these instructions:

An online GoFundMe account – found at https://gofund.me/49f11497 – has so far raised just over US $70,000.

Interested parties can also make donations via the Caribbean Union Bank at account #20004089, the Community First Credit Union at account #098425, or the Eastern Caribbean Amalgamated Bank at account #131003564.

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