Travolta to testify over death of teenage son

Actor to take stand in Bahamas against paramedics accused of blackmail

Guy Adams
Wednesday 23 September 2009 00:00 BST

Preparing to break his silence over the death of his teenage son and brave awkward questions about the Church of Scientology, John Travolta is set to give evidence in a bizarre blackmail trial which opened yesterday involving paramedics who tried to save the boy's life.

The actor, whose 16-year-old son Jett suffered a fatal seizure at their holiday home in the Bahamas, has returned to the scene of the tragedy for the first time, and is expected to appear as star witness in the trial of two locals implicated in a $25m [£15m] extortion plot.

Mr Travolta is on a list of 14 witnesses scheduled to testify against Tarino Lightbourne, a local ambulance driver who performed CPR on the dying boy, and Pleasant Bridgewater, a lawyer and former member of the Bahamian senate who stands accused of acting as his accomplice.

The duo were caught on tape demanding millions of dollars from the actor in exchange for a legal document relating to Jett's treatment. Prosecutors say they threatened to sell it to the media if no cash was forthcoming.

"Contact was made with certain persons to communicate a threat to John Travolta," said Bernard Turner, the country's chief prosecutor, in his opening arguments in the Nassau courtroom yesterday.

The document at the centre of the case is a liability release form signed by Travolta on 2 January, in the chaotic moments after an ambulance arrived to treat Jett, who had been found unconscious in a bathroom.

It released the ambulance's crew from responsibility should Travolta prevent his son being transported to hospital. However, the form's contents are largely irrelevant, since Jett was taken almost immediately to Rand Memorial Hospital in Freeport.

Mr Lightbourne and Ms Bridgewater are nonetheless accused of attempting to sell the document a fortnight later, when questions were being asked over the influence the Church of Scientology – to which the Travoltas belong – may have had on the way Jett was treated.

The teenager, who died after losing consciousness and hitting his head on a bathtub, had a history of seizures. The Travolta family say he suffered from Kawasaki disease, a rare condition which causes inflammation of small and medium size arteries.

However Kawasaki disease rarely affects children over eight years old, and is seldom fatal. As a result, some medical experts speculated that Jett had been suffering from an acute form of autism – a condition not recognised by Scientologists.

This week's trial will see Mr Lightbourne accused of exploiting that controversy by persuading Ms Bridgewater to contact a lawyer for the Travoltas, and demand $25m for the return of the liability form. Both defendants have pleaded not guilty.

It isn't entirely clear why they thought Travolta would be willing to pay so much to prevent the liability form becoming public: regardless of the controversy surrounding Jett's treatment, it had little bearing on his death.

The actor and his wife, Kelly Preston, have been keeping a low profile since the tragedy and have not returned to the holiday home where it occurred.

Mr Travolta is believed to be staying at a gated community close to where the trial is taking place.

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