Chinese tow-truck driver killed in accident never talked about job hazards

Chinese tow-truck driver killed in accident never talked about job hazards
GRIEVING: Ms Zhuang Meilin holding a photograph of her husband, tow-truck driver Li Hongzhou, who was killed on Jan 10 when a car hit him while he was attending to an accident on the AYE.

He had called his wife in China and told her he was safe and happy in Singapore.

Five days later, the 40-year-old tow- truck driver was dead, killed in an accident while attending to two cars on the highway.

Mr Li Hongzhou had taken up the job here last year as there was a lack of jobs in his hometown of Shandong in China.

His employer said he was hardworking and never complained.

Now, Mr Li's family face an uncertain future after losing their main breadwinner.

At 9pm on Jan 5, Mr Li phoned his wife, Ms Zhuang Meilin, 39, an odd job labourer and mother of one, and told her all was good in Singapore.

It would be the last time she would hear from him.

On Jan 10, at about 5.50am, Mr Li was attending to an accident involving two cars on the Ayer Rajah Expressway (AYE) when a third car slammed into him, killing him.

He was pronounced dead on the spot.

Ms Zhuang said she received the devastating phone call from her husband's agent three hours later.

"I was working when I received a call telling me that my husband was involved in a car accident. I was hoping that he was okay because they didn't tell me he was dead," she said.

But her worst fears were realised when more calls came in.

She and her cousin-in-law, Mr Li Hongjie, 41, immediately made arrangements to fly to Singapore.

They collected her husband's body on Tuesday, a day after arriving at Changi Airport.

The cremation was on Tuesday night.

In an interview with The New Paper on Wednesday, Ms Zhuang and Mr Li Hongjie described the dead man as kind and honest.

He used to work as an odd job labourer back in Shandong.

Said Mr Li Hongjie (right), 41, who works at a hospital, in Mandarin: "There weren't many jobs back in our village. Being an odd job labourer, my cousin couldn't earn a regular salary or secure regular jobs."

He added that his cousin wanted to return to Singapore to work, having previously worked here as a logistician in 2009.

Ms Zhuang added: "He wanted to earn more money to better support our family and give us a better life. Of course, I was supportive even though I worried for him."

Her husband came to Singapore in May 2013 and got a job as a tow-truck driver with Island Recovery Services.

Ms Zhuang said she knew the dangerous nature of her husband's job even though he never told her about the hazards.

"When he phoned home, which was about once or twice a week, he would always tell us how happy and comfortable he was here. "He would never tell us the bad things. He never wanted us to worry," she said.

Mr Tom Lim, 51, the owner of Island Recovery Services, said Mr Li was hardworking and would always ask for more assignments.

"He was someone who would take on any job, any time of the day. He never complained, he just wanted to work, earn money and take it back home," he said.

He added that the tow-truck driver was also thrifty.

"When he first started working, he ate instant noodles and pickled vegetables. I scolded him many times and told him he had to eat better food because he needed the strength to work.

"But he continued with his ways so I bought him proper meals or had my wife cook for him. It was the least I could do to take care of him."

Mr Li Hongjie declined to reveal how much his cousin earned but said that he would remit money to his wife and 11-year-old son.

Ms Zhuang, who spent most of the half-hour interview wiping away tears, said her son took the news the hardest.

Said Mr Li Hongjie: "He has been crying every day. Once, he banged his head against the wall and cried out how much he missed his father."

Ms Zhuang and Mr Li Hongjie will return to China with the ashes on Monday.

"We are grateful to Mr Lim, who has been accommodating and taken very good care of us. At least we know that while my cousin was working here, he was treated well."

A police spokesman said a man was arrested for causing death due to a negligent act and investigations are ongoing. When asked if they would forgive the driver, Mr Li Hongjie said: "I believe Singapore law will bring my cousin justice."

He added: "We were born in the same year. We grew up, played and shared everything together. He was like a brother to me.

"To lose him like this is just cruel."

We stay alert but sometimes, it’s just luck

When tow-truck driver Jim Koh goes to work every day, his wife always warns him to be careful.

She constantly worries that he might not come home.

He told The New Paper: "We never know what will happen while attending to accidents on the road."

Mr Li Hongzhou, 40, a tow-truck driver, was killed on Jan 10 while attending to an accident on the Ayer Rajah Expressway (AYE).

The New Paper spoke to other tow-truck drivers about the perils of the job.

Said Mr Koh, 28, who has been in this line for seven years: "My closest shave was in April last year when a car swerved and almost hit me while I was at the side of the road.

"It narrowly missed me by just half-a-car's length. It was very scary."

Said another tow-truck driver who declined to be named: "We are always careful to avoid accidents on the roads. But sometimes, all it takes is a careless driver."

The tow-truck driver, who is a friend of Mr Li and has 10 years' experience, added: "There is always this fear when we step onto the road with cars driving past us.

"But sometimes, it also depends on luck. You can never see it coming."

Mr Koh said tow-truck drivers should always switch on their blinker lights, set up traffic cones and wear reflective vests while working on the roads.

"In this job, we can never be a hundred per cent safe. But we have to take every precaution and be alert.

rloh@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Jan 24, 2015.
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