Fifth policeman dies in line of duty
Widow never thought she would lose husband so violently
By Oscar P. Clarke
June 18, 2002
Just five days before he was gunned down, Constable Rawle Thomas returned to the mining town of Linden, with no thought of being the latest victim of the current attacks against members of the Guyana Police Force.
The crime spree in the city was rife, but the young cop, attached to the Target Special Squad (TSS), assured his wife, Lavern, that Linden was safe.
The father of four is the fifth policeman to have been killed in the line of duty since the crime wave escalated following the February 23 jailbreak by five men. He was just 32 years old.
When Stabroek News visited his wife at the couple's Lot 14 `C' Tucville Terrace, Georgetown home yesterday, several friends were gathered, offering comfort and support.
Mrs Thomas, national netball coach, said she never thought she would lose her husband of three and a half years so violently. She nonetheless considered herself very fortunate to have had him as a husband.
According to her, Thomas had only returned to the mining town on June 9, after spending two weeks at home to compete in the Joint Services basketball tournament. So when she received a call last Friday, at about 1540 hrs, while coaching at the Cliff Anderson Sports Hall, her first thought was that something had happened to her mother. Her sister, Paula, said "Sit down."
The young widow said her next thought was that something had happened to one of the children. But when she was told of the incident, what started as a normal day, turned into a full nightmare by evening. A group of gunmen had opened fire on Thomas and two other policemen not far from the Wismar Police Station.
The trio had reportedly stopped a car that was trailing their vehicle and he was proceeding to investigate when the gunmen opened fire. Thomas was shot in the lower abdomen, below the waist-length bullet proof vest he was wearing at the time.
After receiving the news, Mrs Thomas immediately called the station at Wismar to confirm the report, then the Linden Hospital Complex to inquire about Thomas' condition. The prognosis was not good. She was asked to travel immediately.
She recollected the experience yesterday as if it were happening all over again, while at the same time, attending to her five-year-old son, Rawle Jr. Numerous telephone calls interrupted the interview, and she was forced to pause and assure callers that she was "holding up."
Mrs Thomas said she arrived in Linden at about 1830 hrs and was informed by the Officer-in-Charge that the police had already requested the army's helicopter, since the Linden Hospital Complex was unable to adequately deal with Thomas' condition.
She was also allowed into the theatre at the Linden institution and recalled seeing her husband lying with swabs in his abdomen. Then she noticed blood on the floor and was told that he was bleeding internally and that they were unable to do anything further and he needed to be transferred to the city.
Following a lengthy wait for the helicopter's arrival, Thomas eventually left the mining town at 2025 hrs for Camp Ayanganna in Thomas Lands before being transferred to the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC). Mrs Thomas said all through the helicopter ride, she had to be peeping under the seat to get a glimpse at the injured cop. At times, she said, he would throw his hands in the air as if convulsing. "They had to be holding his hands down," the woman stated. At the hospital, she said, Thomas was examined at the Accident and Emergency Unit and then rushed to the Intensive Care Unit.
It was while he was there that he went into shock, requiring efforts to have him stabilised before an emergency operation to stem internal bleeding.
Thomas, his widow said, was eventually taken to the theatre at 23:00 hrs for a two and three-quarter hour operation. Mrs Thomas said the doctor indicated that her husband had a "50-50 chance" of survival.
Among the injuries identified were the rupturing of the large intestine and his bowel and a blood vessel in his right leg. The doctor also told Thomas's wife that there would have been need for a further operation but they could not have done anything else at that time because of the amount of blood he had lost. There were also concerns about the oxygen supply to Thomas' brain and the likelihood of permanent brain damage.
According to the widow, the doctor spelt out the seriousness of the situation to her while indicating that they had done all that could have been done for him.
The doctor had also told the woman that her husband would have been fully sedated - a state he remained in until his death.
During his period of hospitalisation it was said that he received up to 13 units of blood owing to the heavy blood loss.
Recognising that the end might be near although continuing to hold out hope for a miracle, Mrs Thomas said she stayed at the hospital after visiting hours were over. At 2130 hrs she was summoned by a nurse and given the dreadful news.
The woman said Thomas' condition had deteriorated markedly that day. His kidneys had reportedly collapsed and his heartbeat was not as strong as before. His chances for survival were drastically reduced to 75/25 and she claimed to have noticed blood frothing from his mouth.
Although the death of her husband was expected because of the gravity of his injuries, Mrs Thomas said, she was still shocked by the manner of his killing and that he did not regain full consciousness even after the surgeries.
At the time of this newspaper's visit yesterday afternoon, Sports Minister Gail Teixeira had already visited the family's modest dwelling. So had Mrs Thomas' colleagues from the National Sports Commission. However, she was yet to receive a visit from Home Affairs Minister, Ronald Gajraj.
Mrs Thomas recalled her late husband's pleasant personality and calm disposition.
The young constable who had been serving the force for the last ten years had been stationed at Linden for the last two years after being transferred to that jurisdiction from Mahdia in January 2000. The woman said she was instrumental in his move, because since their marriage in December 1998, she hardly ever saw her husband. However, he never missed a special occasion at home. "Birthdays, Valentine's Day, Christmas...he was always there. He was the one who is always going to the children's school to check on them," Mrs Thomas recalled.
Thomas also leaves to mourn his sons, 16-year-old Warren, a student of St Joseph High School and five-year-old Rawle Bradley of La Premiere Academy; daughters, Shantal, 13, a student of Bishop's High School and nine-year-old Robin of North Georgetown Primary School; his parents and three younger siblings.
Just days before returning to duty, Thomas had reportedly promised his eldest son to resign from the force. On this note, the grieving Mrs Thomas said "had it been up to me, he would not have been in the force."