(NewsNation Now) — The family of a U.S. college student who has been sentenced to four months in prison in the Cayman Islands for violating the territory’s strict COVID-19 measures is speaking out.
Skylar Mack, 18, of Georgia, and her boyfriend Vanjae Ramgeet, 24, of the Cayman Islands, have been in prison since Tuesday, when the ruling was issued. They had both pleaded guilty, but their attorney, Jonathon Hughes, said he will argue for a less severe sentence next week.
Mack, who is enrolled as a pre-med student at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia, arrived in the Cayman Islands on Nov. 27 and was supposed to undergo a two-week quarantine as mandated by the government, which electronically tracks anyone who arrives in the British Caribbean territory. However, she broke quarantine on Nov. 29 when her boyfriend picked her up to attend a water sports event, Hughes said.
After their arrest, a judge ruled the couple had to provide 40 hours of community service and pay a $4,400 fine. In addition, Ramgeet was ordered to a two-month curfew that would start at 7 p.m. But the prosecution appealed, arguing the punishment was unduly lenient and would not deter other possible violators. A higher court decided in favor of prosecutors, ruling on Dec. 15 that the couple be imprisoned immediately.
“She’s very apologetic. She knows she made a mistake,” Skylar’s grandmother, Jeanne Mack told NewsNation. “It was a very poor decision and I’m sure she just got caught up in the moment of being over there. And she’s willing to pay for her decision, we’re just asking that whatever she pays be consistent with what other people are saying.”
The Cayman Compass newspaper reported that Judge Roger Chapple said during Tuesday’s sentencing that the decision to violate safety measures was born of “selfishness and arrogance,” adding in its report that Mack spent seven hours out in public without a face mask or social distancing.
“This was entirely deliberate and planned, as evidenced by her desire to switch her wristband the day before to a looser one that she was then able to remove,” he was quoted as saying, referring to the electronic tracking device.
“To have an 18-year-old in a foreign country be used as an example for a country has stunned us. We never expected that,” said Jeanne.
The couple has been together for seven months. Hughes said he doesn’t know how they met. He noted that Ramgeet is a competitive jet skier like Mack’s father.
Jeanne Mack, told the AP that she reached out to U.S. President Donald Trump and received an email from a staffer saying the White House would look into the matter.
Mack, who lives outside of Atlanta, said her granddaughter decided she wanted to be a doctor at age 10 and asked for a suture kit at her birthday a couple of years later.
The couple is the first to be sentenced under an amended law targeting COVID-19 violators. The original law called for a $2,400 fine and up to six months in prison, while the recently amended law calls for a $12,000 fine and up to two years in prison.
Under the original law, a Canadian couple found guilty of violating coronavirus measures were ordered to pay a $1,200 fine each.
The Cayman Islands, a territory of nearly 62,000 people, has reported more than 300 coronavirus cases and two deaths.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.