Police are bracing for an all-out turf war in the multi-million-dollar illegal quarrying industry in east Trinidad.
A major player in the business was killed in an ambush while heading to work shortly after midnight on Saturday.
An unknown number of gunmen lying in wait in the bush along Tractor Road, off the Toco Main Road in Matura opened fire on a white car carrying five people, including two teenagers.
Police said Anton “Darko” Blake, 41, of Palm Drive, Valencia, was killed. The driver, Emmanuel Adams, 37, of Cadiz Road, Belmont, was shot multiple times and is in a critical condition at the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex.
Excavator operator Suresh Ramsingh, 29, of Peter Circular Road, Wallerfield was shot in the right knee. A17-year-old girl was wounded on the right hand. Her 15-year-old brother escaped unhurt, police said.
Ramsingh and the teenagers managed to flee as the gunmen opened fire with what police described as assault rifles, and hid in the bush near Pine Road.
The shooting took place around 12.30 am and police only saw the injured teenager when she emerged from hiding about five hours later.
Police believe the group were on their way to “cap” material and be ready for a fleet of trucks to be loaded in the early hours of Sunday.
Officers are investigating illegal quarrying which has been going on for years in protected areas in Matura and hundreds of acres of state land from Valencia, Matura, Melajo and Manuel Congo, among other areas. They believe a rival illegal quarry operator was behind the attack.
It was only after the Prime Minister complained that the quarrying was threatening the protected turtle-nesting site that some action went was taken, but the illegal quarrying has once again fallen off the radar.
Police said Saturday’s shooting will bring more attention to the highly profitable industry, which has morphed into a significant organised sector of the criminal underworld, drawing in a host of players, contractors and even politicians.
A task force set up to stamp out the illegal quarrying has been starved of resources and manpower and was effectively grounded after a recent bust which affected the business of a contractor with close links to the government, a senior police officer said.
The task force, which had begun to make inroads into the illegal operations, has since become dormant.
Commissioner of State Lands Bhanmatie Seecharan recently met with Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith to seek help to get the unit up and running again, according to a reliable source.
Last month, police raided an illegal quarry operator off Salvary Trace, Las Lomas, who had already carted away tonnes of red sand. But when Ministry of Energy officials were called in, the operators were simply told to cease operations and were allowed to leave with laden trucks.
That operator did not have a licence for mining operations or a Certificate of Environment Clearance from the Environment Management Authority.
A list of questions that Newsday sent to the Ministry of Energy seeking clarification as to why no action was taken against that operator is yet to be answered.
This story was originally published with the title "
1 killed, 3 injured as car shot at off Toco Main Road" and has been adjusted to include additional details. See original post below.
One man was killed and three others injured when the car they were travelling in was shot at early Sunday morning. Anton “Darko” Blake from Palm Road, Valencia, is dead after the shooting.
Police reports say three men including Darko and two teenagers,17 and 15 were in a white Honda Accord driving along Tractor Road, off the Toco Main Road, at 12 am on Sunday when they heard gunshots.
On hearing the gunshots, two of the men ran from the car into nearby bushes and made their way to nearby Pine Road and contacted the police. One was shot in the right knee and was taken to hospital in stable condition. The other was unharmed.
The teen girl also ran into nearby bushes and hid there until Sunday morning where she was found at around 5.15 am. She was shot in her right hand and is also at hospital.
At Tractor Road, police officers PC Seenath, PC Travejo, PC Henry and PC Jennings found Blake’s “motionless” body in a “black jersey, black three-quarter pants and a pair of boots and blood seen on his left hand, lying in the roadway.”
The report said the driver was found alive in the driver's seat with gunshot wounds.
He is in critical condition at hospital.
The district medical officer (DMO) ordered the removal of Darko’s body to the Sangre Grande mortuary and an autopsy will be performed on Monday.
Investigations are continuing.