‘He died in my arms.’ Twelve months on, a mother’s agonizing wait to find out why her son died at Lekki toll gate

Toll-gate victim’s family will not allow death to define him, they say his death was ‘inevitable’

‘He died in my arms.’ Twelve months on, a mother’s agonizing wait to find out why her son died at Lekki toll gate

Mother’s pain remains … Michelle Carews as she (left) attended the inquest into her son’s death at the Lekki toll-booth. Photograph: Efe Coban/Sipa USA

For Michelle Carews, the past 12 months have been a living hell.

Her 20-year-old son was killed in an accident at Lekki toll-booth in Lagos while returning from London last April. Since then, Michelle has been denied any kind of closure by the coroner’s inquest into his death. At least now the inquest into the car crash has ended, she has been able to say she won’t let the pain define her son’s life.

“I am happy about that,” she said as she waited for the inquest to end on Friday. “Because we have been waiting this long for a verdict. This is the first time it is finished. I know that this is how it should be, and I don’t think he would want this to define him. He had too much life left to live and that was very important to him. He wanted to show everyone how he lived his life.”

More than 100 people died in the accident on the same day last year as traffic swamped the Boveda bridge. Michelle said a driver overtook her son’s car on the wrong side of the road and then hit him. The inquest has heard that six passengers and their driver also died in the crash.

Why the inquest is happening at all is now the subject of much debate. Lagos state governor Akinwunmi Ambode initially rejected a coroner’s inquest into the crash, believing that the data collected at the scene would be too limited to come up with a reliable finding.

But the governor relented after public pressure and on Friday a lawyer representing the family announced the jury had found that the crash was an accident, but have “not reached any conclusion” on what caused it.

During the inquest, Mrs Carews, a 50-year-old retired teacher, explained that she had lost her son to road traffic accidents six times before and had little faith in the Lagos state government’s ability to investigate such incidents.

She had questioned why Lagos state government officials didn’t simply conduct their own autopsies. “My son’s car was in good condition. Why couldn’t they get an independent doctor to do the autopsy? This way, they could disprove something when it was refuted,” she said.

Although much of the inquest has been conducted by coroner Lere Olayinka, the family has a lawyer involved and has plans to appeal the verdict.

The coroner has declared himself unfit to continue in his role, although several of his rulings have been strongly contested by members of the family, including his ruling on whether to exclude the police from the inquest.

During the inquest, other experts have blamed the death toll on the conditions of the bridge and its sequence of exits.

Michelle Carews was always positive about the accident, believing it was not her son’s fault. Now, she is confident he would want her to find a way to channel her sorrow into positive actions.

“We can never go back to the way it was. It will always be different,” she said. “He has been buried and I go to the grave to see his face. That is all I can do. I want to have a life outside of him, and you can see he lived a full life. I still wake up at night and go to sleep at night, like he is coming back. He has to live forever. There is a hole in my heart but he is always with me.”

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