'WORST NIGHTMare': Justin Lake, centre, with his mother Linda and father Larry in Atlanta, Georgia. Justin was left paralysed from the neck down and is confined to a wheelchair after being hit by a drunk driver in Tobago in August.

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US man wants justice for Tobago accident

...'had to tell Third World paramedics what to do'

By Anna Ramdass anna.ramdass@trinidadexpress.com

Almost three months after a near fatal crash, there has been no justice for American Justin Lake who remains paralysed after being hit by a drunk driver in Tobago while on vacation in August.

Lake, an architect with bachelors of fine arts from the Art Institute of Atlanta and who had just finished his EMT (emergency medical technician) training, visited this country in August on the invitation of his friends local businessmen John Paul and Albert Debs.

The love for scuba diving and nature took the three friends to the sister isle where Lake's vacation turned into his worst nightmare.

In a recent interview with the Express both Debs and Paul recalled the horrific day—August 26—when Lake's life was in jeopardy.

"We were turning into a parking lot when a car came speeding and hit us from the back on the right side," said Paul.

Paul and Debs were in the front seats of the vehicle, Lake was seated in the back on the right and felt the full impact of the collision.

According to Paul, Lake was jolted from the seat and his head split as it hit the grab handle, a device located above either side of the back door which helps back seat passengers keep their balance.

Paul said the driver of the car which collided with theirs stormed out of his vehicle and started blurting obscenities—accusing them of causing the accident.

The man, he said, went back to his car and got a hockey stick which he started brandishing.

At this point, Debs said Lake was screaming in pain saying he could not feel his legs.

He was taken to the Scarborough Hospital where his injury was stitched. He was later airlifted to St Clair Medical Centre and a day later was flown to Piedmont Hospital, in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, for surgery to the spinal cord.

Lake is currently at the Shepherd Center undergoing therapy, in Atlanta, Georgia to regain motion in his arms and legs. 

Paul said that not only was there no justice to date for Lake, his medical bills are to the tune of hundreds of thousands having faced challenges with his insurance provider as the accident happened in Tobago.

Following Lake's accident, several international news agencies reported on the incident casting this country's health service in a negative light.

In September, Fox News carried a report which stated, "A Georgia man paralysed from the neck down from a car crash in a Third World country had the presence of mind to tell paramedics there how to care for him."

Lake told Fox News the crash compressed his spine and broke five vertebrae.

"I can just remember lying in the back-seat, being about as helpless as I possibly could be. Couldn't really yell or talk or anything. Just being paralysed," Lake said.

He also told Fox News that he realised the paramedics did not know how to care for him and he had to direct them on what to do.

"And I was just trying to walk him through it, pretty much just on pure adrenaline, knowing this is my legs, knowing how bad my injuries are going to be is determined in these few minutes of c-spine stabilisation," said Lake.

Paul said Tobago police had indicated they were investigating the matter but to date, nothing has been done.

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