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Eight years for fatal DVD store shooting

PHILIPSBURG--The Court of First Instance on Wednesday sentenced a seventeen-year-old male suspect to eight years in prison for fatally shooting a man in Most Requested Flex DVD store on Front Street on October 9, 2014.

Youth Prosecutor Karola van Nie had requested 12 years on manslaughter charges during the March 25 hearing of this case.

The victim in this case, Etienne I. Leblanc (25), was shot and killed in what defendant Shimano Gumbs had claimed was an attempted robbery of the store's disabled owner.

Gumbs, who is the store owner's son, stated he challenged the robbers in self-defence, after which a fight started. In the process, gunshots were fired, fatally wounding Leblanc. The second alleged robber managed to run away from the store. The victim sustained several gunshots to his body and died of internal haemorrhage.

Gumbs was also found guilty of involvement in theft with violence and possession of a firearm with ammunition. In the September 16, 2014, incident the court found it proven Gumbs had snatched a chain from Leblanc's neck.

Concerning the fatal shooting, the judge did not consider murder proven, but followed the Prosecutor's Office in finding the young defendant guilty of manslaughter, in dismissing claims of self-defence.

The defendant confessed to the shooting. "I was in my father's shop. I picked up a gun and pointed it at a man in the shop and pulled the trigger," he had told the police one day after the incident.

The court rejected claims that the victim had wanted to rob the defendant's father, because this statement was only sustained by the father's testimony. Besides, the statements of father and son were contradicted by statements of two witnesses of the shooting, who had both said an attack of the victim had not materialized. No forensic evidence of such an attack had been found at the scene of the crime, the court added.

Gumbs confessed he had snatched a chain from Le Blanc's neck and had worn it until the day of the fatal shooting. He had stated he had taken the chain as some kind of collateral in order to get his own chain back, which, he claimed, had been taken from him by Le Blanc.

In sentencing, the court took into account that the defendant had not only robbed the victim of his chain, which in itself already was a serious crime, but had also shot dead the father of three young children, when he came to the store for redress.

The judge also did not take it lightly that the young defendant had not returned the stolen chain to the victim's relatives and had seemingly not taken any responsibility for his acts and had fully put the blame on the victim.

During his trial, the defendant expressed his regret for what had transpired, but the court doubted his sincerity. However, his young age and clean police record weighed in his favour, according to the court, which followed the conclusion drafted in a psychologist's report concerning the defendant's lessened accountability due to limited "intellectual capacities."

Gumbs will be submitted to so-called TBR detention in a youth custody centre, most likely in the Netherlands.

Because he had spent three months in preliminary detention in a police cell, Gumbs was granted a reduction of one year on his nine-year prison sentence. He is currently detained at Miss Lalie Center. Gumbs has immediately filed for appeal, his lawyer Remco Stomp said.

Silvio Matser appeals tax-fraud conviction

PHILIPSBURG--United People's (UP) party Member of Parliament (MP) and local businessman Silvio Matser has filed an appeal against his tax-fraud conviction in the Court of First Instance. The hearing of the appeal by the Joint Court of Justice kicked off Wednesday with a so-called preliminary hearing.

During the pro-forma hearing Matser's lawyer, attorney-at-law Cor Merx, requested the hearing of seven witnesses.

The Court of First Instance sentenced the first-term MP on January 7 to 24 months, 18 of which were suspended, with three years' probation and 240 hours of community service. His now defunct company, Energizer NV, was ordered to pay NAf. 4.5 million in back taxes.

The Prosecutor's Office had requested a sentence of 24 months in jail, eight of which were to be suspended, with two years' probation and payment of a NAf. 4.5 million fine.

Only Matser appealed the sentence. In the Court of First Instance his lawyers Merx and tax attorney Gert Bergman had pleaded extensively in their client's defence. They not only contested the amounts in back taxes, but also pointed out a number of errors in the preliminary investigations and claimed a company administrator had made the errors in the tax files, not their client.

The Joint Court granted the defence's request to hear witnesses by the Judge of Instruction. Among those to testify are two tax inspectors. One inspector will have to explain to the court whether Matser/Energizer had been exempted from payment of company turnover tax. The other will be heard concerning alleged promises that the case against Matser would be dealt with only fiscally and would not be prosecuted in court.

Several Energizer employees also will be called to the stand. The actual appeal case will be heard after the mid-year recess.

Medical screening, training proposed for public transportation operators

~No more help/assistant drivers permit~

PHILIPSBURG--The medical screening and mandatory training of operators of public transport vehicles as well as the doing away of help drivers and assistant drivers' licenses are part of the sweeping changes being proposed for the public transportation sector.

These proposed measures are contained in the Public Transportation Policy Framework for St. Maarten document, a copy of which was emailed to The Daily Herald on Wednesday. The document is dated September 2014.

According to the document, the proposed measures are intended to help professionalise the public transportation industry and eliminate some of the major bottlenecks plaguing the sector. Additional consultations are still to be held on the document and no definitive timeline has been set for implementation.

Medical requirement

The document indicated that government will develop and implement mandatory medical screening for public transportation operators.

According to the document, public transport operators have a very demanding job and a healthy body and mind are essential in order to protect passengers and other road users. It is therefore important that all operators undergo annual medical examinations, by an appointed government physician, in order to ensure the good health of drivers.

"The purpose of the physical examination will be to certify the drivers are of sound body and mind. That there is no presence of physical, mental, or emotional defects of such character and extent as to affect the driver's ability to control and safely operate a Public Transportation Vehicle and evacuate passengers in the event of an emergency. All medical information will be handled confidentially and due to privacy, the physical examination form will stay with the medical examiner," the document highlights.

Employment

Government, the document continues, will facilitate the revamping of the license for help driver and assistant help driver system. What is known as "help drivers" and "assistant drivers" in its current format will be revamped and remoulded to ensure that all persons working in the field of transportation have the necessary protections.

"All operators will be certified for a renewable period, based on conditions, allowing them to work freely on the open market, without the need for owners to request for a help driver or assistant driver permit," the document states." The objective is to stimulate healthy competition; ensuring drivers enjoy employee status and professionalise the sector.

The document says that public transportation's broad reach extends to all persons within the communities and is a source of many employment opportunities. However, may persons currently working in the sector lack the necessary protection in the form of job security, pension and access to medical coverage. "To ensure a dynamic sector, it is necessary to professionalise public transportation."

Routing

Routes are also addressed in the document, which says government will develop a coordinated routing and monitoring system. Currently licenses are generally issued without indicating any specific routes.

"Operators have developed their own unofficial routes. This works in part however, many less lucrative areas are not serviced. Areas considered more affluent are also not serviced, though these areas do have a large working class in the forms of domestics," the document said. "The result is that gypsy cabs service which are expensive and dangerous service these routes... Routes are also circuitous and overlapping, as there is no coordination between operators, as the objective is to maximize profit rather than service."

Mandatory training

The document says government will develop and implement a comprehensive mandatory training programme for all operators of public transportation in an effort to professionalise the sector.

Public transportation operators have "a huge responsibility" as they are required to transport, on a daily basis, large numbers of citizens. It is therefore imperative that these operators have the necessary mandatory training.

The document suggests that the training focuses on the rules of the road, in particular pertaining to public transportation; improvement of customer service; basic medical requirements such as First Aid and Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) training as well as knowledge of the cultural and historical information about St. Maarten.

Public Transportation Committee

The success of public transportation depends on the cooperation of private public partnership, the document reads. "It is important that all stakeholders within the sector are represented."

Such a committee, the document adds, should advise on the holistic level and refrain from advising on individual licenses. Government will facilitate a holistic approach towards the Public Transportation Committee and will revamp the objective and responsibilities of the committee.

"As government moves to introduce new legislation and programmes that target public transportation, it is imperative that the sector is aware of such developments and how they can benefit. As information is essential to promoting all economic activities, steps are to be taken to ensure that all stakeholders have equal access to information about public and private sector initiatives."

According to the document, government will also consult with stakeholders to formally draft and implement public transportation legislation designed to support and enhance safety control and enforcement and professionalise the public transportation sector.

Government, according to the document, will continue to improve the physical infrastructure via the provision of bus stops, bus depots/stations and routing in collaboration with private sector and other development partners.

The document also proposes that government encourage local institutions to support public transportation in areas of such as pensions, medical and financing where applicable.

"The public transportation sector is often overlooked as small businesses and not given the necessary documentation or services. Business Service Organisations (BSOs), Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and other development partners are working towards the creation and implementation of programmes and initiatives to support St. Maarten's public transportation sector," the document says.

"In the past, many of these programmes have not had the desired impact due to insufficient funding, lack of information dissemination or the lack of proper coordination between stakeholders. These challenges can be met by supporting both governmental and NGO efforts that attempt to assist public transportation as these organisations will require further assistance."

It was suggested that the growth of the public transportation sector be monitored by tracking changes in annual business license fees paid by public transportation operators as well as increases in taxes paid by these operators.

The policy framework is an architectural plan for the drafting of a thorough ministerial policy. The Policy Framework was done taking into consideration government's plans to develop policies and draft legislation to develop, promote and professionalise the public transportation sector. The ministry intends to consult with stakeholders.

"Over the last ten years the Ministry has held consultations with the various bus and taxi associations and their input is reflected in this policy framework document. However, as much time has passed there is a need to renew consultations, but this time it is important that a product is delivered shortly thereafter to avoid a repeat of the same."

Germanwings Airbus crashes in French Alps, 150 feared dead


By Jean-Francois Rosnoblet

0SEYNE-LES-ALPES, France (Reuters)--An Airbus operated by Lufthansa's (LHAG.DE) Germanwings budget airline crashed in a  remote snowy area of the French Alps on Tuesday and all 150 on board were feared dead.
  French President Francois Hollande said he believed none of those on board the A320 had survived, while the head of Lufthansa spoke of a dark day for the
German airline. Germanwings confirmed its flight 4U9525 from Barcelona to Duesseldorf crashed in the French Alps with 144 passengers and six crew members on board.
  Hollande said: "The conditions of the accident, which have not yet been clarified, lead us to think there are no survivors." Officials said the plane issued a distress call at 0947 GMT, about 52 minutes after take-off.
  Unofficial website tracking data suggested the aircraft made a sharp descent from its cruising height of 35,000 feet but that it did not appear to have plummeted as quickly as aircraft known to have lost complete control. However, safety experts warned against reading too much into the third-party data, especially over remote areas, and said black boxes holding the probable answers to the crash were expected to be retrieved quickly
  The accident happened in an alpine region known for skiing, hiking and rafting, but which is hard for rescue services to reach. As helicopters and emergency vehicles assembled, the weather was reported to be closing in.
  "There will be a lot of cloud cover this afternoon, with local storms, snow above 1,800 metres and relatively low clouds. That will not help the helicopters in their work," an official from the local weather centre told Reuters.
  Hollande said there were likely to be significant numbers of Germans on the flight. Spain's deputy prime minister said 45 passengers had Spanish names.
  It was the first crash of a large passenger jet on French soil since the Concorde disaster just outside Paris nearly 15 years ago. The A320 is a workhorse of worldwide aviation fleets. They are the world’s most used passenger jets and have a good though not unblemished safety record.
  Lufthansa Chief Executive Carsten Spohr, who planned to go to the crash site, spoke of a "dark day" for the airline. "We do not yet know what has happened to flight 4U9525. My deepest sympathy goes to the families and friends of our passengers and crew," Lufthansa said on Twitter, citing Spohr.
  "If our fears are confirmed, this is a dark day for Lufthansa. We hope to find survivors," it said.
  A spokesman for France's DGAC aviation authority said the airliner crashed near the town of Barcelonnette about 100 km (65 miles) north of the French Riviera city of Nice. French and German accident investigators were heading for the crash site in Meolans-Revel, a remote and sparsely inhabited commune in the Alps.
  German Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt would also travel to the crash site, a ministry spokesman said.
  Airbus (AIR.PA) said it was aware of reports of the crash. "We are aware of the media reports," Airbus said on Twitter. "All efforts are now going towards assessing the situation. We will provide further information as soon as available."
  Officials at Barcelona airport said the flight took off at 0855 GMT. Families of those on board the plane were gathering at a specially prepared building there.
  The crashed A320 is 24 years old -- at the upper end of useful life of an aircraft in first-tier airlines -- and has been with the parent Lufthansa group since 1991, according to online database airfleets.net
  (Additional reporting by Nicolas Bertin, Gregory Blachier, Tim Hepher; and Sabine Siebold; writing by Giles Elgood; editing by Mark John, James Regan and Anna Willard)



Convicted paedophile appeals his conviction

PHILIPSBURG--Convicted paedophile Emanuel York, who was described in the Court of First Instance as a "digital child molester," has appealed his conviction. The case was brought before the Joint Court of Justice on Tuesday, for a first procedural hearing which dealt with the defence's request to hear witnesses.

The basketball official (49) was sentenced to five years imprisonment by the Court of First Instance on January 7. He was found guilty of the rapes of two teenage boys, ages 15 and 17, whom he had groomed on the Internet.

The sentence was one year less than demanded by the Prosecutor. York's lawyer Brenda Brooks had pleaded for her client's full acquittal.

The Court of First Instance had found it proven the St. Maarten National Basketball Association SXMNBA official had used the same modus operandi to lure his victims in both cases. He had met them via the Internet and had promised them a spot on basketball, baseball or taekwondo teams and had promised them trips to the United States as part of an exchange programme.

In exchange, the boys were subjected to tests and private one-on-one training sessions, during which they were subjected to running and other exercises. These late-afternoon sessions were not held at a basketball court or baseball field, but in remote areas such as Mt. Bishop Hill and the hills behind the Vineyard Building, where they were touched, forced into sexual acts and raped.

York had denied he had touched the boys or had any sexual contact with them.

Attorney Brooks submitted several requests to the Court of Appeals on Tuesday, among which were expert reports on her client's mind. She also wanted to be able to question both juvenile victims, one of the victim's brothers and the medical doctor who had filed the report on the victims' injuries.

The Prosecutor's Office objected to submitting the victims to another round of questioning because this would "once again be a traumatic experience," Solicitor-General Taco Stein said. He also said that all of the lawyer's questions had already been answered when the victims were heard by the Investigating Judge.

The lawyer was not allowed to sit in on the actual questioning, but had been able to submit questions to the judge and had been in the possibility to witness the hearing from a different room via a video-connection, it was explained to the Court.

Stein said the requests for reports by a psychiatrist and a psychologist were filed too late. The Solicitor-General added that these reports may also yield little results because the suspect is maintaining his innocence.

After a brief recess, the Joint Court announced it would decline requests to hear the underage victims, as their interests outweighed the defendant's interest in this matter.

The Court also declined the requests for psychological and psychiatric reports, and also turned down the request to hear the medical doctor, because a doctor's statement had already been included in the case file. The next hearing in this case is set for June 3.

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