By Circles Robinson
HAVANA TIMES — The Cuban authorities stated today that the Spanish driver of the crashed vehicle in which dissidents Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero died last Sunday is responsible for the tragedy.
Angel Carromero, a youth leader of the governing right wing Partido Popular (PP) of Spain, was driving at 120 kph (75 mph) on a dangerous stretch of highway in eastern Cuba at twice the speed limit of 60 kph (37 mph), noted the Ministry of Interior in their report issed on Friday.
“The stretch of highway where the accident occurred is under repair and for a distance of two kilometers is not paved, which converts it into a dirt road with lots of loose gravel,” states the official note.
The report cites three witnesses near the crash scene who corroborated the theory of the rental car traveling at an excessive speed, which then lost control and smashed into a tree.
The widow of Payá, Ofelia Acevedo, had previously expressed doubts about the initial official version of the lone car striking a tree and had asked for an exhaustive investigation.
The government did not say whether criminal charges would be filed against Carramero, currently in police custody.
The following is a Havana Times translation of the complete report (in Spanish) from the Ministry of Interior.
Official Note from the Ministry of the Interior Concerning the Accident that Occurred on July 22
As reported by the Granma newspaper (in Spanish), on July 22 at 2:50 p.m., a Hyundai Accent automobile with license plates T31402 went off the road and ran into a tree along a stretch of the Las Tunas-Bayamo highway in the locality of Las Gabinas, in Granma province.
Killed in this unfortunate accident were Cuban citizens Oswaldo Jose Paya Sardinas and Harold Cepero Escalante. Receiving slight injuries were two foreigners: Spanish citizen Angel Francisco Carromero Barrios and Swedish national Jens Aron Modig.
During the investigative process, it was stated that the vehicle left Havana at 6:00 a.m. that day driven by Angel Carromero en route to Santiago de Cuba. Jens Aron was riding in the passenger’s seat, while Oswaldo Paya was in the left rear seat and next to Harold Cepero. The latter two were not wearing seat belts.
The stretch of road where the accident occurred was under repair and for about a mile the road surface was not paved, becoming a dirt road with a great deal of gravel, and was therefore unstable. The forensic analysis revealed that the site is a straight path with good visibility and that there was a sign indicating the presence of workers carrying out maintenance work. These were preceded by similar signs alerting drivers of the roadway sections under repair.
Regarding road safety, Paragraph 2 of Article 127 of Law 109 states that “vehicles must not be driven at speeds over 60 kilometers per hour [37 mph] on dirt roads or embankments.” Likewise, Article 128 reads: “In line with the preceding articles relating to the general speed limit, those people driving a vehicle or an animal on the road must retain full control of their movement and are required to moderate their speed, and stop if necessary owing to traffic or visibility” – especially “when the surface is slippery or unstable due to water, grease, sand, mud or other substances or these may be thrown onto vehicles and/and pedestrians.”
The reports by experts and the testimonies of three eyewitnesses to the accident (Jose Antonio Duque de Estrada Perez, Lazaro Miguel Parra Arjona and Wilber Rondon Barrero) established that the car hit the unpaved section while traveling at an excessive speed. In this regard, Captain Jorge Mendoza Fonseca, an expert at the scene (with 12 years of experience), said the driver applied the brakes in an abrupt manner 80 meters after having entered the embankment, losing control of the vehicle and causing the car to spin to its left side for about 63 meters (with the front of the vehicle toward the shoulder of the road and its rear toward the center line) until hitting a tree on the right side of the road, which confirms the extreme speed at which the car was being driven.
Jose Antonio Duque de Estrada, a worker at the National Institute of Water Resources (INRH), who lives in the town of Rio Cauto, Granma and was riding through the scene of the incident on a bicycle, told the investigating authorities:
“The car passed me on one side going fast – it had to be more than a 100 kilometers per hour. It passed a tractor that was going in the same direction and then I saw this huge cloud of dust when it entered a stretch that was in bad shape. As I got closer and the dust settled, I saw the car had hit a tree on the side of the road. In my opinion, the clearest reason I could see for the accident was speeding. Hitting the embankment isn’t the same as driving on pavement – there’s no brake that can save you. The car was out of control and it ran into the tree.”
In his version of the same incident, Miguel Lazaro Parra Arjona, who is a tractor driver for INRH and a resident of La Sal, in the Yara municipality, confirmed those facts. As he stated: “The car passed me at a high speed, then I saw the dust cloud. When that cleared up I could see that the car had hit a tree in the ditch.”
Both Duque de Estrada and Parra Arjona were riding in the same direction as the car involved in the accident, but Wilber Rondon Barrero, a farmer from Rio Cauto, was traveling in the opposite direction, a few hundred meters away from where the incident occurred. “As I approached, I saw the car lose control and slam into a tree in the ditch,” he said.
A criminalist team composed of Lt. Col. Fontes Misael Perez, an officer of the Section of Accidents, Explosions and Fires, with 19 years of experience as an expert; Lieutenant Colonel Inardi Reyes Uriarte, the head of the Granma Provincial Forensic Unit, with 11 years of experience as an expert; Traffic Engineering staff member Captain Jorge Fonseca Nuñez; and Fidel Guevara, the head of Traffic Engineering in Granma Province, with nine years of experience as an expert, concluded categorically that the driver was speeding. They found that the vehicle had a dent measuring 67 inches wide and 45 inches deep in its rear left side, which was perpendicular to the longitudinal axis of the car (where the deceased were traveling) resulting from a blow that substantially deformed and mono-chassis roof, and that the characteristics and dimensions of that dent corresponded to the tree in question.
The forensic medical report indicates that Oswaldo Paya died instantly from head trauma as a result of the strong impact received, while Harold Cepero died in surgery at the Carlos Manuel de Cespedes Hospital in Bayamo City. The latter man’s death was due to acute respiratory failure owing to pulmonary thromboembolism in the upper lobe of his left lung resulting from the fragmented fracture of his left femur.
The driver, Angel Carromero, told the investigative unit that he couldn’t remember having seen the signs warning about the road conditions. He added that he hit the unpaved segment at a speed that he couldn’t determine because he wasn’t looking at the speedometer. He added that when he realized that he was traveling on gravel, he tried to slow down by braking suddenly and the car began to spin sideways and ran into the tree. Passenger Jens Aron said he was asleep when he felt the braking and the lateral displacement of the vehicle. He then lost consciousness.
From an analysis of the travel time (about five hundred miles in less than eight hours, with three intermediate stops), the statements of witnesses and expert studies of the scene and the vehicle, the investigative team concluded that Angel Francisco Barrios Carromero must have been averaging at a speed of more than 120 mph and his inattention in controlling the vehicle, excessive speed and the incorrect decision to apply the brakes suddenly on an unstable surface were the causes of this tragic accident that killed two people.
The investigative and the criminal prosecution processes are ongoing and are in compliance with Cuban law.