Text not enough to save life

In my younger years, I often hitch-hiked through remote rural areas of Australia. In the days before texting, I had a system of phoning friends at each end of my journey and would sometimes make short calls from my cellphone, when I was in an area that got mobile coverage. With one friend in particular, I had a pre-arranged code-word.

Sameera Chandrasena (also known as Sameera Battelage) sent a text to a trusted friend, on the night of 22 February 2012, but unfortunately in his case, it was not enough to save his life.

Nilantha Sanjeewa Dayarathna Dahanak Gamarallga spent about an hour in the witness-box in the High Court in Christchurch and described Sameera (or “Sammy” as he called him) as his “most close friend”.

If English had been his first language, I have no doubt he would have called him his ‘best friend’.  At the beginning of his testimony, the judge did tell Mr Gamarallge that he could give his testimony in his native Sinhalese if he needed to.

Having been in New Zealand for more than three years, he was happy to give his testimony in English, except for one short part. After getting the nod from the judge, he spoke briefly in Sinhalese, and then the court interpreter tanslated into English.

Mr Gamarallge testified that he had met the deceased soon after arriving in New Zealand and they had been close friends ever since.  Most weeks they would share a few drinks, and sometimes “Sammy” would stay for a meal with Mr Gamarallge and his wife.

They had regular contact throughout the week speaking on the phone and texting. The texts, Mr Gamarallge explained would usually be a ‘pidgin’, a mixture of English and Sinhalese together.

At 10.38pm on 22 February 2012, Mr Battelage sent a text to Mr Gamarallge. (unusually, it was entirely in English) It said “If something going wrong Prawesh and Viraj with me. K”

The witness however, who is employed as a baker and often works long hours, didn’t notice that text come in at that time. The next day, while at work and with his phone set on ‘silent’, Mr Gamarallge was aware of several missed calls coming in, as the phone vibrated in his pocket several times. Sometime after 2pm, Mr Gamarallge checked his phone while on his tea-break.

He noticed several calls from two landline phone numbers that he was not familiar with had called him between 1.21 and 2.19pm that afternoon. He called one of the phone numbers back and Viraj Alahakoon answered, who passed the phone at his end promptly over to Prawesh Sawal. It was at this time that Mr Gamarallge heard for the first time, that his best friend Mr Battelage (Chandrasena) had died in a house fire.

The witness, Mr Gamarallge barely knew Mr Alahakoon, although he knew Mr Sawal substantially better, having been introduced to him by Mr Battelage some time before. He remembered he was working  at the Pak-n-Save bakery at Riccarton Mall  at the time, so it would have been in 2011 he said.

Later Mr Sawal had said to Mr Gamarallge to steer clear of Mr Battelage “Sammy’s not a good guy”.  The witness believed the ill feelings stemmed from a deal gone wrong involving a BMW car.

Soon after that phone call, Mr Gamarallge checked through the memory on his phone and found the text that Mr Battelage had sent the night before.

There was some cross-examination by defence counsel as Mr Gamarallge had several times referred to the “Cust pub”. However when queried by counsel, Mr Gamarallge stood by what he said and said he was sure that was the name used. (Previously in the trial, the Oxford Workingmen’s Club and the Belfast Tavern had been mentioned).

(Explanatory note on names. Sometimes inconsistencies exist in names, and this can be caused by a number of factors, especially when non-European names are “Anglicised” so they can be written using a normal English alphabet.  Other factors can be “tribal” names used in some cultures or names which change over the course of life. In some cultures, married women do not assume their husband’s surname and in some countries the surname or family-name goes first and the Christian or given name goes afterwards. Sometimes names can have a numeric meaning also. Much can be ‘lost in translation’. The most common language spoken in Sri Lanka is Sinhalese. This is usually written using a combination of two alphabets, which can trace their roots back thousands of years. The deceased man in the case currently before the court, has been referred to variously as Sameera Chandrasena and Sameera Madurangana Manikka Battelage. No offence is intended to any person. )


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