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Since 1st March, 1999
 
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Year-end picnic ride ends in disaster

Dec. 31: A year-end picnic turned fatal for a group of teenagers this morning when their speeding van, unable to negotiate a sharp bend, fell on rocks at the bottom of a 15ft gorge, causing the death of four children.

All the 16 children were aged between 14 and 18. They studied in various schools in Nagrakata block of Jalpaiguri. All were residents of Sukhanibusty in the same block. This morning, like on several earlier year-end days, some children of the village were headed for Lalguras, a local picnic spot, 40km away.

There were no adults with them, except for the driver.

“Every year, the children of the village go for a picnic on this date. It is unfortunate,” said Anup Rai, a Sukhanibusty resident. “The parents of the four children are inconsolable. We have also learnt from doctors that at least five more have suffered multiple injuries and are in a serious condition.”

The road from Sukhanibusty to Lalguras has four sharp bends. The van negotiated three. But at the fourth bend, the driver lost control.

“The pick-up van went off the road around 11am. The vehicle fell into a 15ft-deep gorge, killing three students. Residents rushed to rescue them. One of the schoolchildren died on the way to Malbazar sub-divisional hospital (about 25km away),” Amit P. Javalgi, the superintendent of police of Jalpaiguri, said.

The deceased children have been identified as Saran Chhetri, 16, Rohit Kami, 14, Aman Shrestha, 15, and Reshmi Rai, 18.

The picnic spot, Lalguras, is about 65km from Jalpaiguri town.

Five children were sent to the North Bengal Medical College and Hospital. Some of the children are believed to have head injuries.

“After providing basic treatment, we sent five to NBMCH. The remaining are under treatment here,” Sanjib Haldar, the Malbazar hospital superintendent, said. “Most of the injured are unconscious.” The driver is also being treated at Malbazar.

Sujoy Chhetri, a Sukhanibusty resident, who later visited the accident spot, said it was entirely the driver’s fault.

“There is no problem with the road. The driver seems to have been speeding and could not negotiate the sharp bend,” he said.

Elem Pradhan, a resident of Lalguras who saw the accident happen, said the vehicle was speeding.

“At the fourth bend, it rammed into the pole of a display board where a ‘drive slowly’ sign has been put up. The car fell into the gorge, upside down,” he said.

“The area is strewn with boulders. Some of the kids got stuck under the vehicle, others were tossed onto the boulders.”