Riot accident unfolded in 26 seconds

SINGAPORE - An unfortunate combination of factors and just 26 seconds sealed the fate of Indian national Sakthivel Kumaravelu, 33, who unwittingly sparked off the Little India riot after he was run over and crushed by a bus on Dec 8.

The Committee of Inquiry (COI), set up to investigate the causes of the riot, heard yesterday that the construction worker was intoxicated and was chasing after the bus on a wet road surface.

Furthermore, it was highly unlikely that the bus driver would have seen him.

Senior consultant forensic scientist Michael Tay, the first among 117 witnesses to be called, said that there was "a possibility" that the 55-year-old bus driver, Mr Lee Kim Huat, could have seen the deceased in the first 10 seconds.

That is, if he had been looking at the screen which displayed the images from the four cameras on board the bus.

Each of these images, however, would have been been just 4.3cm by 7.65cm large - slightly smaller than a Singapore identity card - and the driver would have had to look down rather than ahead, said Dr Tay, who was engaged by the police to determine factors such as the driver's line of sight, the bus' speed and the point of collision.

Dr Tay also said that it was impossible for the driver to have spotted the deceased during the four "critical seconds" just before the accident, due to the deceased's small size and the glare of the surrounding vehicles' headlights.

He also noted the "cognitive workload" of the driver, who had to navigate on the congested road, with "20 to 30 pedestrians in the vicinity of the bus" and two stationary buses parked along the same stretch.

The bus had also been moving at an average speed of 6kmh, he said, and the whole incident - from the time when the deceased started to chase the bus to getting hit - took just 26 seconds.

Mr Sakthivel had also pressed his right palm against the left side of the bus as it was moving, with his left hand holding an umbrella at waist level, causing him to lose his balance and fall.

He was also taking faster and larger steps as the bus moved forward.

Intoxication, said Dr Tay, would also have impaired his cognitive abilities, judgment and motor skills. Mr Sakthivel's blood was found to have nearly three times the amount of alcohol allowed for motorists.

The Attorney-General's Chambers said last week that the bus driver would not face any criminal charges.

The four-man COI is chaired by former Supreme Court judge G. Pannir Selvam.

Two other witnesses - Health Sciences Authority's consultant forensic pathologist, Dr Marian Wang, and toxicologist Yao Yi Ju - also testified at the six-hour hearing.

When the chair asked if it was possible that the deceased was screaming for help - a rumour that was circulating at the time - Dr Wang said that this was not possible, as the brain matter of the deceased had spilt out onto the road at the point of collision and "death would have been instantaneous".

Witnesses slated to testify today are the bus timekeeper, Madam Wong Geck Woon; Mr Lee; a passenger on board the bus; and Deputy Commissioner of Police T. Raja Kumar.

The public hearing is expected to last four to six weeks.

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