I saw what REALLY happened the night John Travolta's teenage son Jett died

The Mail,UK/September 15, 2010

The death of the Hollywood megastar's son is still mired in acrimony after 18 months. Here the paramedic at the scene makes his own explosive claims...

With his wife expecting a baby boy, life looks sweet for John Travolta.

But behind this rosy facade is a smoking gun legal wrangle that - keen as he is to consign it to the past - simply won't go away.

A murky and complex affair, it centres on the tragic death of Travolta's autistic 16-year-old son Jett, who suffered a seizure and hit his head on the bath at the family's holiday home in the Bahamas in January last year.

Travolta and his actress wife Kelly Preston had been celebrating New Year with friends in the islands, and as Jett required constant supervision, questions were raised about the standard of his care on the day he died.

Since the couple are devoted followers of the Scientology religious cult, which does not recognise medical conditions such as autism, there were also suggestions - for which, to be fair, no evidence has ever been produced - that their beliefs stopped the teenager being properly treated.

This speculation swirled around for months following Jett's death, and was heightened by a sensational criminal case that arose from it. Travolta told police he was the victim of an attempted $25?million extortion plot hatched by one of the paramedics called to the scene, Tarino Lightbourne, and the ambulanceman's lawyer Pleasant Bridgewater.

Lightbourne, 48, claims that the star and his aides were so concerned about the circumstances surrounding the death that they instructed him to put Jett on a waiting private plane so that he could be flown to Florida, rather than taking him to a hospital just 15 minutes away.

Witness: Former paramedic Tarino Lightbourne outside court for the collapsed trial against him for trying to extort at least $25million from Travolta

Witness: Former paramedic Tarino Lightbourne outside court for the collapsed trial against him for trying to extort at least $25million from Travolta

During a dramatic five-week trial in Nassau last September, it was claimed that Lightbourne and Bridgewater demanded $25?million from Travolta for the return of an indemnity form signed by the star - which proved he'd refused to send his son to the local hospital.

With the jury about to deliver its verdict, however, the judge ordered a retrial after a Bahamian politician prematurely claimed on television that one of the defendants had been found not guilty.

The new trial was due to begin this month. But last week, in another curious and unexpected twist, Travolta surprisingly dropped the case that has privately consumed him for months and which has cost millions in legal fees.

He said in a statement: 'The long-pending status of this matter continued to take a heavy emotional toll on my family, causing us to conclude that it was finally time to put this matter behind us.'

Last Monday, the prosecutor informed the judge of his decision, and the charges were frozen indefinitely.

If Travolta believed his withdrawal would finally draw a veil over this disquieting affair, however, he was very much mistaken.

For as former paramedic Tarino Lightbourne told me in an exclusive interview, he has no intention of letting things lie.

'I'm very sorry that John Travolta lost his son, of course, and I've always been a huge fan of his,' the father of two told me. 'I have no axe to grind. But I am the real victim, not John Travolta.

'I have been paraded as a common criminal and thrown in jail [he spent 25 days in prison before being bailed], and I have lost my job.

'The truth is I wish now that the trial had gone ahead so that I could clear my name and get my dignity back.'

Lightbourne, it must be said, is not always the easiest man to deal with, and at times his behaviour makes you question his story. However, the devout Christian says his experiences have left him distrustful and constantly on edge.

And if we believe his account of what happened after he and his colleague Derrex Rolle arrived at the Travoltas' yellow-washed beach holiday apartment on January 2 last year, it is an astonishing tale indeed.

Though he outlined it briefly during last year's extortion trial, he was not given the opportunity to go into detail. But during a three-hour interview near his home in Freeport, Grand Bahama, he gave his version of events in full.

John Travolta and wife Kelly Preston leave the court building in Nassau, Bahamas, in September 2009, during the extortion trial

According to Lightbourne's trial lawyer Carlson Shurland, the first person to find Jett after he collapsed was the Travoltas' maid, who alerted the front desk of the holiday resort where the family's residence is situated.

About 15 minutes passed before the emergency services were called, he says.

When Lightbourne and Rolle arrived, at about 10.45am, they were led to the bathroom, where a number of 'white people', he recalls, were huddled around a boy, who was naked and covered by a towel, lying on the marble floor.

At this point, the paramedics had no clue as to the family's identity.

The boy's head was gashed and two of the group were giving him heart massage. A Filipino couple who run a private clinic near the resort, Dr Romeo Fernandez and his nurse wife Emma, were hovering close by.

'The doctor said he had suffered a seizure and hit his head when he fell. I asked how long ago, and he said "a few minutes",' Lightbourne recalls.

Yet when the paramedic carried out tests to check for signs of life, it appeared immediately that the doctor's timing was hopelessly wrong.

'With my back turned to the other people in the room, I whispered to the doctor: "This boy is dead. Why don't you call it [pronounce death]?"?'

'Dr Fernandez said: "I know - just continue with CPR [cardiopulmonary resuscitation]."?'

In such situations, paramedics must take the lead from any doctor present, so the pair reluctantly did as they were told, putting Jett on a 'spine board' to make compression easier, and then pumping oxygen into his lungs.

Moments later, Lightbourne says he heard one of the men make a deeply worrying remark to the others.

'Gentlemen, do we have an agreement?' the paramedic heard him say. 'We can make a lot of money out of this. Everybody remain quiet and we can make a lot of money.'

Lightbourne says he was told he could 'retire' by playing along with the 'charade' taking place in the room.

To Lightbourne, the clear implication was that Jett had been dead for a long time, someone may have been at fault and the group believed they would be rewarded handsomely for hushing it up.

Having since spoken to members of the resort's staff who were on duty at the time, Lightbourne has several theories - and that is all they are - about what might have happened.

As he could smell alcohol on some of the group members, and they had been partying for New Year, he speculates that Jett may have become involved in a drinking session that got out of hand.

But Travolta's son suffered serious seizures every few days and required round-the-clock supervision. He was usually tended by two nannies. Whether they were qualified carers, or on duty that night, is not known.

So, he surmises, perhaps in the party atmosphere Jett's care was lax, and he was unattended when he fell and hit his head, then lay on the floor for hours without anyone knowing he was there.

Does he still suspect something was not as it seemed over the boy's death?

'I really can't answer that because I just don't know. The only thing that would prove that is the autopsy.'

Indeed so, but if a post-mortem report was filed, nobody outside the Travolta camp and the Bahamian authorities has ever seen it because, like so much of the crucial evidence, it has not come to light.

'The boy's eyes were fixed and dilated, I noticed dry blood stains around both his ears and nostrils and the sides of his mouth?...?and the body was already in a state of rigor mortis. That usually starts about three hours after death'

There was not even a coroner's investigation into Jett's death, much less a full inquest. As a former British colony, the Bahamas' legal system is based on Britain's, where a full inquest would have been required.

Within hours, Jett's body had been cremated and his remains flown home to Florida.

'Everything was fast-tracked,' Lightbourne says. 'You have to ask yourself why.'

Lightbourne says he finally discovered that Jett was Travolta's son when he was told, by three or four of the group, to transfer the boy to a small aircraft parked beside the resort's private landing strip.

Lightbourne explained that this was against protocol, and that Jett must be removed to the Rand Memorial Hospital, whereupon he was introduced to a man in his mid-50s, with 'red-rimmed' eyes, who wore baggy black sweat pants and a white T-shirt.

The paramedic failed to recognise him, but when he gave his name, Lightbourne realised who he was.

'I thought to myself "John Travolta - I'm a fan of his", but I didn't say anything because it would have been wrong. I treated him the same as I would any patient's relative.

'I explained that we couldn't put his son on the plane, but that if he wished to sign what we call a patient refusal form [saying he agreed his son would not be taken to hospital even though an ambulance had been called], we would leave.'

Travolta's signature was witnessed by police inspector Andrew Wells, who told me this week he was very surprised at this decision, because he had never seen anyone refuse help in such dire circumstances, and facilities at the Rand Memorial Hospital are good.

The police chief also confirmed that he heard talk of putting Jett on a plane to Florida, and says Dr Fernandez was urged to travel with him by one of the group but refused.

Inspector Wells says he could not be sure whether Jett was dead when he arrived at the scene, but added pointedly: 'John Travolta really loved his son and I felt really sorry for him. But the fact is, no matter what stress you are under, there are rules to be followed.

'What affected it all, I believe, was his celebrity status. That played a big part in the whole thing.'

Shortly after signing the form, Travolta said he'd changed his mind, and told the paramedics to take Jett to hospital after all.

As he gave no reason, we can only guess at why he had a change of heart, but Lightbourne's lawyer claims efforts had been made to remove the private plane's seats to accommodate the stretcher, but they could not be shifted.

What, then, became of the all-important medical form Travolta signed, which was carbon-copied in triplicate - and did Lightbourne really try to use it to fleece the star for millions, along with his former lawyer Ms Bridgewater (accused of orchestrating the plot)?

This aspect of the saga is too convoluted to explain in full. Suffice to say that the paramedic claims to have been set up by the Travolta camp as a diversionary tactic at a time when people were beginning to ask very awkward questions about Jett's death.

Always a keen autograph hunter, Lightbourne says he took a copy of the form home simply because it carried the actor's signature, and stashed it in a suitcase with other memorabilia.

And though he willingly admits that he sold a sanitised account of Jett's final moments to a U.S. television news programme, he insists that he had no intention of hawking the form until he received a phone call from one of Travolta's attorneys, offering to pay millions for its return.

Through Bridgewater - a well-respected Bahamian senator as well as a lawyer - a meeting was duly arranged between Lightbourne and the Travoltas' lawyer at a Nassau hotel. The police had been tipped off by Travolta's camp and secretly taped it.

When shown to the jury at the first trial, this evidence certainly looked incriminating. Lightbourne appears to drive a hard bargain before agreeing to hand over the tell-tale form for $15million.

And when he says he plans to use some of it to set up a centre for down-and-outs, Travolta's attorney drily remarks that he is 'the Robin Hood of the Bahamas'.

However, Lightbourne now insists that he knew he was being entrapped and was simply playing along to try to draw out Travolta's plan to buy the form.

Who to believe?

Whatever the truth, his lawyer, Mr Shurland, maintains that his client was a mere 'opportunist' at worst, and strongly denies that he attempted extortion, which involves threats or coercion.

All this would have emerged in the re-trial, Mr Shurland says, adding that he was poised to produce a compelling array of new witnesses, so that the full story behind Jett's death would have been laid bare at last.

They would have included Dr Fernandez and his wife, who were out of the country when called to give evidence at the first trial.

When I tracked down Dr Fernandez last week, he would only say that the case was 'all in the past'. However, his wife Emma said that there had been no vital signs of life when the couple were tending to Travolta's son.

Asked why she thought the actor had abandoned the court case against Lightbourne, she told me: 'Maybe he thought he would lose.'

The Travoltas' maid, who apparently no longer works for the family, was also going to be called. Consequently, we do not know how important her evidence would have been.

This, Lightbourne's attorney claims, is the real reason why the actor decided not to go ahead with the case.

So does John Travolta have anything to hide? Now that the case has been dropped, we will probably never know.

And so the unanswered questions about the death of the son he loved so much will continue to cast a shadow across his glittering career.

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