The Death Of Tenor Saw: Here’s What Actually Happened To The Dancehall Icon

In 1988, at only 21 years old, Dancehall icon Tenor Saw was the victim of a hit-and-run driver in Houston, Texas, contrary to widespread reports and speculation in Jamaica that his death was the result of gun violence or exposure after an altercation.

This is according to a series of documents recently obtained by DancehallMag, including a witness report, police findings, the autopsy report, and certificate of death, which provide new insights into the events surrounding the death of the Ring The Alarm singer, born Clive Bright.

These records reveal that after he was struck, Tenor Saw received prompt medical attention, undergoing brain surgery and a leg amputation, but ultimately succumbed to his injuries two weeks later. Interestingly, the documents also suggest that Hurricane Gilbert, which hit Jamaica in 1988, may have contributed to the difficulties in contacting Saw’s relatives and the consequent county burial after his body initially went unclaimed.

The Hit And Run

The incident, which unfolded near 10020 Mykawa Road at 11:45 pm on July 31, 1988, was described in a report by Police Investigator Rose Raupp, who relied on the account of a witness, Rodney Fuller. Raupp had revealed that the then-unidentified singer was seen out and about before he was hit. 

“The decedent was seen standing at the edge of a driveway at 10020 by Mr Rodney Fuller just prior to the accident.  At 11:45 pm on July 31, Fuller heard a crash and saw the decedent lying in the road.   It was believed the decedent was struck by a car travelling south on Mykawa, but there were no witnesses and the vehicle fled the scene.  The decedent had no identification and no one at the scene knew the decedent,” she wrote.

Tenor Saw was taken to Ben Taub General Hospital by ambulance, arriving at 12:31 AM on August 1, 1988, 45 minutes after being hit by the vehicle.

According to the records, he underwent several medical procedures, including having his right leg amputated below the knee. “A ventriculostomy [a neurosurgical procedure] was also performed” before he was placed in the hospital’s Surgical Intensive Care Unit.

The singer passed away 13 days later, at 9:05 AM on August 13, 1988.

Autopsy Findings

Tenor Saw’s autopsy was conducted on August 14 by a team led by Medical Examiner Joseph A. Jachimczyk of the Harris County Forensic Center in Houston. They concluded that his death was caused by a closed head (Intracranial) injury and Bumper injuries, compounded by a severe lung infection (Bilateral Bronchopneumonia).

Bilateral Bronchopneumonia is defined as inflammation caused by an infection in the air sacs in both lungs, symptoms of which are coughing, breathing difficulties, and fever. Respirator Brain is when the brain is deprived of oxygen and blood flow and becomes non-functional.

First page of Tenor Saw’s Autopsy report.

Saw had “sustained open fractures of the left leg and right femur with damage to the right femoral vein and right femoral artery,” which medical experts said were consistent with being hit forcefully by a car’s bumper.

“There were no fractures of the hips, the ribs or the spine,” the autopsy report noted.

This is a far cry from the theory of Tenor Saw’s mentor, the late Sugar Minott, who surmised that the singer had died of pneumonia after he got into an altercation with promoters about not being paid for a performance and was “beaten, left in bushes, exposed to the elements” and died from the respiratory illness, and reports that he was shot by armed thugs.

Posthumous Identification

According to investigator Jesse Payton’s report, “when the deceased was originally received, he was an unknown,” but “his identity was established by the FBI from fingerprints submitted by this office as Clive Bright, black male, date of birth December 2, 1966.  Place of birth Kingston, Jamaica”.

“The date of the identification was September 2, 1988. A transcript was routinely received by the office demonstrating the criminal history of the deceased.  The transcript reported weapons and narcotics offenses as well as a probated sentence in New York City,” Payton had noted.

The investigators were also left with more questions than answers, though, after being told that Tenor Saw had criminal records that were expunged, an exercise which Peyton noted was only carried out under two circumstances: if the person is a confidential informant or under the Federal Witness Protection Program.

“Subsequently this office received another criminal history transcript on this individual.  This transcript directed that the previously forwarded transcript was to be disregarded as it had been voided by the ‘expungement’ of the criminal record,” the investigator said in the report.

Peyton said efforts to get the cooperation of the New York Police Department in relation to information about the 21-year-old’s status at the time, based on the FBI transcripts, were in vain.

“It is an exercise in futility to try and get cooperation from NYPD.  However, expungement usually means the persons whose record was expunged, is a confidential informant or has been placed in the Federal Witness Protection Program.   It was established that deceased was not in the witness program and nothing was developed to support that deceased was a confidential informant”.

Tenor Saw recording ‘Pumpkin Belly’, (1985). Photo by Beth Lesser.

County Burial

Meanwhile, Investigator Raupp reported that attempts to contact the Jamaican consulate to help find Saw’s relatives to claim his body had proved futile, a factor which led to the Pumpkin Belly singer initially receiving a county burial.

According to Raupp, on September 3, 1988, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement reported to her that “the deceased was a singer out of NY City and gave address of [address removed] Brooklyn NY, when arrested by Metro Dade PD Miami Florida in November 1986 for trespassing, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest”. She noted later that efforts to find persons who knew Tenor Saw at that address, as well as another New York address, had proved futile.

She noted that she tried unsuccessfully, on multiple occasions, to contact the Jamaican Consulate to get assistance in locating the family of Clive Bright (Saw’s birthname), but her efforts were in vain, as from the 9th to the 18th of September, the phone was giving a “busy signal.”

On September 7, 1988, she noted that the vice counsel at the Jamaican Consulate “would send a telex” to the then Prime Minister Edward Seaga, but added that from the 14th to the 18th, the phone rang without an answer.

That though, was perhaps due to the fact that the Category Three Hurricane Gilbert, which later intensified into a Category Five, had swept through Jamaica, downing power and telephone lines on September 12 and killing 45 people.

Seemingly with no way to contact family members or authorities in Jamaica to claim Tenor Saw’s body, the singer was given a County Burial in accordance with US laws, which state if a deceased person’s body is unclaimed, the county in which the body was discovered becomes responsible for the burial.  

“This was a county burial,” read a final investigator’s report dated March 1989.  “No relatives could be found in the US or Jamaica and there have been no inquiries to this office concerning the deceased.”

According to a Jamaica Observer report published in 2013, Tenor Saw was later cremated, and his ashes were brought home.

The only mystery that remains is the hit-and-run driver’s identity and whether the injuries that he received were deliberately caused.

“It is neither supported or unsupported that this deceased was struck intentionally by the automobile which fled the scene,” the final report noted.

It continued: “In view of the information available, or likely to become available, there is not sufficient information as to whether this deceased was accidentally struck by the automobile, or if the striking was purposeful.  It appears the better consideration of manner of death should be ‘undetermined.’”  

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