By Miriam Zarriga in Port Moresby
On the eve of Papua New Guinea heading into its 2022 national general elections, the bearer of one of the highest offices in the country has tragically died.
Deputy Prime Minister Sam Basil died in a head-on vehicle collision along the Bulolo Highway in Morobe Province on Wednesday night.
With his death, the people of Wau-Bulolo and PNG have lost a patriotic and vibrant leader, who had also been a prime ministerial hopeful.
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As investigations continue from Wednesday night into the cause of the incident, police said the driver of the vehicle that collided with Basil’s told them that he had attempted to avoid fallen rocks on the Wau-Bulolo Highway when he swerved into Basil’s vehicle at Sumsum village, Bulolo.
The driver has been identified as Mathew Barnabas, originally from Madang and married to a local woman from Banglum, also in Bulolo.
Killed in the accident were Basil and his close protection officer (CPO) Sergeant Neil Maino.
Northern Command Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Peter Guinness has confirmed that Barnabas had been charged with two counts of dangerous driving causing death and four counts of dangerous driving causing grievous bodily harm.
Rocks ‘blocked road’
“It is alleged that when he [Barnabas] allegedly approached a section of the highway, fallen rocks had rolled over and blocked the road, Assistant Commissioner Guinness said.
He attempted to avoid the rocks and went into the other lane when he collided with the vehicle Mr Basil was driving.”
It is alleged that the suspect had been travelling at high speed and with small rocks like gravel on the road, his attempt to avoid the collision failed when the vehicle swerved into Basil’s vehicle, ACP Guinness said.
Barnabas is currently being treated for a chest injury sustained from the accident.
“A passing PMV truck helped rush the victims to Bulolo health centre for medical treatment,” ACP Guinness said.
Police Commissioner David Manning also confirmed that Basil had been driving at the time of the accident.
“From preliminary reports, Basil was driving the vehicle and was in the company of his two close protection officers and a publicity officer,” Manning said.
“They left Bulolo around 7pm and the accident occurred around 8pm.
A tribute by PNG journalist Scott Waide.
Passing PMV helped out
“It was fortunate that a passing PMV was able to assist and transported them to Bulolo where they were received and emergency medical attention was provided.
“Unfortunately, Mr Basil suffered extensive injuries, and as to the extent of that, a post-mortem will be able to ascertain how and what caused his demise.”
Sergeant Maino was confirmed dead an hour before the announcement of the passing of Basil, Commissioner Manning said.
“It is unfortunate [that Basil] succumbed to the injuries and he was confirmed clinically dead at 11:30pm,” he added.
Three roadblocks at Gabensis were removed by police who appealed for calm.
Morobe provincial police commander Superintendent Jacob Singura said police officers from Lae had been deployed to monitor the situation in Bulolo and along the highway.
PPC Singura also said that police had removed roadblocks and barricades set up by angry locals along the highway.
“A roadblock at Markham Bridge was also removed yesterday by police and I am now calling on everyone to refrain from such activities since the incident is before the police and investigation is still ongoing,” he said.
Miriam Zarriga is a PNG Post-Courier reporter. Republished with permission.