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One missing, one dead after FedEx plane crash

page1a138SIMPSON BAY--One man is confirmed dead and another one was still missing at press time, after a small FedEx aircraft crashed into the sea shortly after takeoff from Princess Juliana International Airport SXM around 6:45pm yesterday.

The double-engine SH36 aircraft, which was said to be en route to Puerto Rico, had taken off over Maho Bay, but crashed into the sea moments later, some three or four miles off the coast. There were two people on board.

The Coast Guard and St. Maarten Sea Rescue set out immediately to search for survivors, joined by a number of private vessels, the Netherlands Royal Marines and a French helicopter.

Rescue efforts were complicated by bad weather, with heavy rain and lightning. Sea Rescue volunteers did not have time to put on rain jackets.

Reports were received around 9:30pm that large amounts of debris were washing up between Mullet Bay and La Samanna. Debris found on Mullet Beach included shoes. Rescue boats made their way to the location. Police and Volunteer Corps VKS officers who had been on standby went to the beach to search through the debris.

Around 10:20pm the Coast Guard and the Royal Marines found the lifeless body of a young man, believed to be the co-pilot, between Mullet Bay and Cupecoy, along with debris. The body, which was transported to the Coast Guard Headquarters, was said to be in a battered state and, along with the amount of debris found, suggested that the crash had been violent. Both the deceased and the missing man were said to be American nationals from Puerto Rico.

The Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre, volunteer Marco de Hooge at the Sea Rescue base and people on various boats were in continuous contact with each other, with De Hooge ensuring that messages were received by all parties. He also translated coordinates into real-life positions via a map, before transferring them to boats without GPS.

Despite the continuous bad weather and the find, against all hopes, of a deceased man, efforts to find the second person continued unabated. Around 11:30pm rescuers accepted the fact that they probably were searching for a deceased person. Nevertheless, the search continued.

All search parties congregated at the Coast Guard Headquarters at 1:00am and around 1:30am the search was stopped for the night with one victim still missing.

The crash follows another incident at SXM Airport just two days prior in which the same aircraft is understood to have been involved. The aircraft is said to have developed a problem during landing and to have veered to the left on the runway, nearly hitting the airport’s SOL jet fuel bunker, after which it had to be removed by the Fire Department. The aircraft had undergone repairs during the last two days.

Attempts to reach airport management or authorities for an official statement concerning the SOL incident proved futile. However, The Daily Herald confirmed the event through a number of unofficial sources.

American Aviation will take over the investigation of the crash. Searches for the missing man were expected to resume in the morning.

Topper’s owner gets sentenced for guns

PHILIPSBURG--The owner of Topper's Restaurant in Simpson Bay was sentenced Wednesday to seven months suspended, on three years' probation, and a NAf. 7,000 fine, for the possession of two firearms with ammunition.

The Prosecutor's Office had requested nine months suspended and a NAf. 10,000 fine.

A fully-loaded .22 calibre handgun and a box with 83 bullets were found in the office at Topper's Restaurant in Simpson Bay, of which Herbert A. Daboul is the owner. A fully-loaded .38 revolver was found at his home during the searches which were carried out on September 17.

The 75-year-old businessman was arrested and detained and released from custody 12 days later.

Daboul said permits had been requested for the firearms, which were kept in vaults and were kept for self-defence. Daboul and his wife had received death threats and had been the victims of multiple assaults.

In addition, Daboul's business partner Michael King and his wife Thelma were robbed and killed in their Cupecoy condominium in September 2012.

Daboul said the guns had been acquired in conjunction with a long-pending request for a firearm license. This concerned a semi-automatic pistol, but the two revolvers he had purchased from a visiting police officer from New York had not been licensed.

The owner of two restaurants and three bars, who is a first offender, said he was sorry for what had happened. "I never walked with a weapon," he added in his defence.

Prosecutor Maarten Noordzij said this case was brought before a Judge as the Prosecutor's Office and the Police are currently making extra efforts to curb the possession of firearms.

"The "Stop, Drop and Go" campaign is aimed at taking unlicensed firearms out of circulation," the Prosecutor said. "St. Maarten is riddled with violent crimes in which people not infrequently lose their lives."

The Prosecutor saw various reasons to deviate from the regular nine to 12-month sentence for a first offender with firearms. For instance, because in this case it involved so-called "nightstand" firearms, which were solely intended for protection. The defendant also had requested licences and had fully cooperated with the investigations.

Due to the defendant's age the Prosecutor found community service an inappropriate sentence. Instead, he requested the Court to impose a fine.

"Fines are also imposed on owners of luxury yachts that sail into St. Maarten with unregistered firearms on board," the Prosecutor said.

"My client can hardly be compared with the owner of luxurious vessel," attorney-at-law Jairo Bloem responded. He said his client was a man of character, a good employer to 60-70 employees and well-respected in the community.

The lawyer used this case to call on government to provide clarity on the gun policy. He said that former minister of justice Roland Duncan had made various statements about the requirements for the issuance of gun licenses, which were, however, never included in an official policy.

Civil servant on trial for drunk, dangerous driving

PHILIPSBURG--Civil servant K.R. (46), who is accused of driving under the influence, reckless driving and causing an accident while under a driving ban, will learn his fate on Wednesday, November 19.

The incidents allegedly had taken place during and after a three-car accident on W.T.A. Nisbeth Road near Kam's Foodworld during the evening hours of March 28.

The head of the New Projects, Development and Planning Department confessed he had consumed three glasses of wine during the reception at the opening of the new artificial grass outfield at St. Maarten Little League field on Pond Island. However, he denied he was drunk and said the accident was caused due to a moment of carelessness.

Two police officers at the scene, who were heard as witnesses in the case on Wednesday, had noticed that R. was unsteady on his feet and had alcohol on his breath. They took his car keys and imposed a driving ban until 6:00 the next morning.

At a certain moment, R. managed to retrieve his car keys and allegedly drove off at high speed, during which he almost knocked over a pedestrian and ignored a red light.

Both officers testified that R. had been very drunk and had displayed "unruly" behaviour.

According to other witnesses, he allegedly had said that as a civil servant he would have been above the law and had proclaimed he was a close friend of Theo Heyliger. He had also attempted to kiss one of the victims in the traffic accident, which had caused considerable damage, it was stated.

In another statement which was read by the Judge, a witness declared R. had offered him money to testify for him.

During a previous hearing, held on October 15, R. had presented four witnesses in Court, his brother among them, to build his case.

Prosecutor Maarten Noordzij considered the allegations proven and requested two months suspended, a six-month driving ban, payment of NAf. 2,000 in fines, and mandatory alcohol-addiction treatment at Turning Point.

The Judge said it seemed that the defendant had an alcohol problem and added there was only one remedy: cutting the habit.

R. denied all charges and attorney-at-law Shaira Bommel elaborately pleaded for his full acquittal, including the reckless-driving charges. She said the accident was caused by a moment of inattentiveness and said he had left the scene as he was confused.

She also claimed that her client was taken to the police station for no reason and contested the statements concerning R.'s alleged drunkenness, as no blood or breath tests had been taken.

The lawyer was also critical of a number of witness statements for the prosecution, which, she said, had "suddenly" been added to the file.

Shigemoto also suspect in second investigation

PHILIPSBURG--Former minister of finance Hiro Shigemoto, who is the main suspect in the so-called Piranha case, may be facing more criminal charges in what has been dubbed the Piranha-2 investigation. Prosecutor Maarten Noordzij said this Wednesday during a preliminary hearing.

In the Piranha-1 case, Shigemoto (44) and Global Advisory Services NV Director R.A.G. (61) are facing fraud, embezzlement, forgery and money-laundering charges.

Shigemoto and G. are suspected of having made fraudulent transactions in connection with the recruitment of personnel for various government agencies that allegedly cost Country St. Maarten NAf. 233,054.

Shigemoto is accused of having facilitated this fraud in contravention of the Accountability Ordinance (Comptabiliteitswet), which constitutes misconduct as a civil servant in connection with the payment of falsified bills.

The Prosecutor stated that more crimes had been reported against Shigemoto. He remained tight-lipped as to the exact nature of the Piranha-2 investigation, which only involves Shigemoto, but said the case was similar to Piranha-1.

The Prosecutor suggested the Court to merge the two cases for two days of hearings on March 11 and 12, 2015. According to the Prosecutor, this was the first open slot in the Court's agenda, which, he said, was actually "very speedily."

Shigemoto's attorneys Jairo Bloem and Janna Westra and G.'s attorney Richard Gibson Jr. were diametrically opposed to the Prosecutor's suggestion. The lawyers wanted their clients' cases to be dealt with as soon as possible and would rather see the Piranha-1 case handled separately. The Court is to decide on this matter on December 10.

The Piranha investigation started after a complaint was filed in 2011. Windward Islands Airways International Winair Chief Financial Officer G. was arrested in connection with this case on December 3, 2012. Shigemoto was arrested on December 17, 2012, and released again seven days later. The National Detectives completed the Piranha-1 investigation in June 2013.

Shigemoto served as Finance Minister from 2010 to April 2012, as a member of the government led by United People's (UP) party. He also was head of the Island Government's Finance Department for several years.

Investigation at day care centre is being finalised

PHILIPSBURG--The investigation into allegations of physical abuse of children at a day care centre in the Cul de Sac area is being finalised.

Ministry of Health, Labour and Social Affairs VSA Inspector General Dr. Earl Best said Wednesday that the final report on the investigation and the conclusions were being drafted. The final report should be completed in a week or two. The outcome of the investigations could not be ascertained.

A teacher at the day care centre was accused of hitting some children in the centre's care, but the centre in question denied the allegations and called them malicious, false and intended to damage its reputation.

The allegations surrounded complaints from more than one parent about a particular teacher hitting children in various circumstances, including for them to sleep. Four of the seven teachers who worked at the facility when this newspaper first reported on the matter had walked off the job due to the reported failure of the school's owner (also a teacher) to take proactive action against the sole teacher accused of hitting the young children.

The owner of the school confirmed at the time that four of her teachers had left, but denied that she had not attempted to address the matter and said the teacher accused of hitting the children "would never do that."

The owner of the school had told this newspaper that the reports of child abuse were probably made by a disgruntled parent who had "an issue" with the school over a US $350 penalty fee (equal to a month's tuition) she had been requested to pay for abruptly taking her child out of the school after a vacation without giving the required advance notice.

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