Simon Schembri recounts ordeal: ‘I knew that if I stopped breathing... I’d be dead’

The police officer testified in court today during the compilation of evidence against 17-year-old Liam Debono

PC Simon Schembri (centre) walking out of court this morning accompanied by his lawyer Arthur Azzopardi (right)
PC Simon Schembri (centre) walking out of court this morning accompanied by his lawyer Arthur Azzopardi (right)

Police constable Simon Schembri this morning gave a vivid description of the incident in which he was hit and dragged under a car being driven by underage driver Liam Debono last May.

He told the court that how Debono had driven towards him from close distance and how he thought he was going to die as he was being dragged beneath his car.

Testifying in the compilation of evidence against 17-year-old Debono this morning, Schembri told the court he had been a police officer for 22 years and had been in the traffic division for seven.

“We are obliged to wear safety boots, jacket trousers and a good helmet,” he said. The helmet had been purchased by Schembri himself and was better than the standard helmet issued to traffic police, he added.

Testifying calmly and without self-pity, Schembri said that on the day of the incident he was dispatched to Paola to cover the south of Malta, where a collision had taken place at around 6:45am. He later went to Luqa to clear traffic from the roundabout.

“I noticed a grey Mercedes. It caught my eye because the glass was tinted…Tinted glass is illegal,” Schembri explained.

He knocked on the window, noticing that the car was left hand drive after the window was opened. There was a youth driving with the seat back fully reclined “ala xanxe, like he was on a sofa” and not wearing a seatbelt.

“I said ‘not even a seatbelt my friend?’” the officer recalled. Debono then pulled the car over into a bus lane. “I made a sign for him to go behind my bike. I noticed that he wasn’t going to do it…I signaled again and he obeyed.”

“Had he wanted to he could have parked comfortably, but he didn’t  - he parked pointing outwards,” said Schembri. The car’s engine was still on and it was at around 45 degrees to the pavement.

“I went to ask him for licence and documents and he said ‘uwejja ostja hallini’.”

Schembri then went to radio the man’s particulars from his motorcycle. He was three metres away from the left front mudguard, Schembri said. “As I was with my hand up saying what are you doing, he drove at me.”

“I was on the bonnet and the instinct was to grab on to something to not go underneath. A wiper, something,” he said. “A few seconds later I slipped and was pulled underneath the car. I was face down being dragged under the car.”

Debono drove in between carriageways. “I pulled my legs in to stop them hitting the stationary cars on either side…I shouted ‘stop what are you doing? What have I done to you? Stop you’re going to kill me!’ He didn’t stop.”

“As I was shouting at him I felt like I was melting. I was thinking, am ‘I going to survive?’ It felt like powerful burning, worse than being set on fire. I was spat out from under the car and ended up face-up on the road.”

As I was shouting at him I felt like I was melting. I was thinking, am ‘I going to survive?’ Simon Schembri

“I started fighting for breath. I knew that if I stopped breathing I’ve had it, I’m dead. I closed my eyes and concentrated on carrying on breathing,” he continued. “I closed my eyes because I knew I was very badly hurt. Someone touched my right hand and I felt great pain.”

I heard the voice of a colleague and I told him to take photos because there needed to be evidence of everything.

“I told him ‘Matthew, don’t tell Moira,’ my wife who he knew because I didn’t want to worry her.”

“Then I heard a lot of panicked voices in the area and on the radio someone said ‘send everyone now’ and I realised that I was very seriously hurt.”

I was spoken to by some nurses who I felt were cutting off my clothes. The doctor gave me an injection to calm me down.

Schembri’s right arm was amputated below the elbow. “Half my chest is gone, my shoulder is reconstructed, I have injuries to my knee, abdomen. I have 11 broken ribs and fractured pelvis, a broken collarbone and spinal injuries too.”

The officer, who still suffers phantom limb pain, has not yet returned to work. He told the court that he didn’t think he’d go back to work “I’m still in a lot of pain…having bad thoughts.”

Lawyer Franco Debono formally told the court that the accused wanted to express his sorrow for the incident. “I’m very sorry for you,” interrupted the accused before being shushed by the court.

Debono asked Schembri why he did not move to avoid the car when it started moving towards him and how an officer of his experience would not have contemplated the possibility that the driver would not obey the order to stop.

He asked whether it was possible that the car had just pulled in momentarily as the driver was manoeuvring away from the pavement.

Schembri insisted that it all happened in a fraction of a second and that his bike was parked behind him, preventing him from moving back. "An approaching car at a distance is one thing, a car so close is another," he said.