One of Panama’s many aggressive and irresponsible drivers leaves his indelible stain on the nation
Mourning and manhunt over Mónica’s death
by Eric Jackson
On the morning of Sunday, September 20, Mónica Licona and her sister Lianna, along with other members of their Stri Store bicycle racing team, set out on a circuitous route that was to end up in Gamboa. Mónica was a superb racer, having represented Panama in the Caribbean and Central American Games and other international competitions.
About 20 minutes into their ride, a little before six in the morning on Avenida Balboa in front of the Hotel Miramar, a rented Kia ran into Mónica. Despite the attempts of her sister and hotel employees from across the street to help, and with the belated arrival of private SEMM ambulance that was stationed next to the hotel but first had to figure out whether it was their job to respond, Mónica was dead within 10 minutes. The accident was close to the trauma unit at Santo Tomas, underfunded but still the nation’s best, and even closer to the private emergency room at Hospital Nacional.
Meanwhile the driver of the Kia and a passenger fled. They abandoned the car on Calle 32 near Avenida Mexico and took a taxi. Part of that flight was caught on video and served to identify a woman retrieving boxes from the trunk and the cab in question. The next day, when the rental agency opened, police were able to verify who had rented the car. A woman thought to have been the one in the video and a cab driver were quickly arrested, and a warrant was issued for the arrest of Enrique Jaén Chérigo, who had rented the car and is believed to have been the hit-and-run driver. A $20,000 reward has been offered for information leading to his arrest.
The tragedy elicited cries of anguish, concern and indignation from Panama’s various cycling groups, to whom careless or aggressive drivers pose a constant threat. A white bicycle was set up on a road median as a protest and reminder.
“Drive defensively, taking care for the crazy things the other drivers might do” is always good advice for Panama. Cyclists need to take special care. But the reality is that a large percentage of Panama’s traffic fatalities are neither drivers nor passengers of motor vehicles, but are pedestrians. With the construction of pedestrian bridges the percentages are down a bit, but drivers who just don’t seem to care remain a major public safety hazard.