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SAF captain pleads not guilty over Bionix incident where NSF died

SAF captain pleads not guilty over Bionix incident where NSF died
Ong Lin Jie (right) had ordered CFC Liu Kai to overtake the Bionix when it was unsafe to do so.
PHOTO: The Straits Times, Lianhe Zaobao

SINGAPORE - The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) captain accused of acting rashly in an incident that led to the death of full-time national serviceman (NSF) Liu Kai pleaded not guilty on Thursday (March 18).

Corporal First Class (CFC) Liu, 22, was driving Ong Lin Jie in a Land Rover that was mounted by a reversing Bionix Infantry Fighting Vehicle during a training exercise in November 2018.

Ong, 30, is accused of acting rashly by failing to keep a safety distance of 30m between the Land Rover and the Bionix ahead as he ordered CFC Liu to overtake it when it was unsafe to do so, without first establishing communications with the military vehicle.

Ong, who has since been suspended from service pending the outcome of the court proceedings, appeared before a district court on Thursday to have his plea taken.

The prosecution's case is that it should have been obvious to Ong that there was a real risk that the Bionix had encountered the opposing side in the exercise and would need to reverse, as part of the drill.

"Despite this obvious risk, the accused ordered the deceased to overtake (the Bionix) without first establishing any communications with (its) crew to ensure that it was safe to do so," said the deputy public prosecutors in their opening statement.

Ong is represented by Mr Teo Choo Kee, who argued that there was no regulation that states his client had to establish communication with the Bionix vehicle when overtaking it.

Through questioning the prosecution's first witnesses, Captain Wan Hong Wee, the conducting officer in the exercise, he pointed out that the practice of overtaking a stationary armoured vehicle, like the Bionix, would be to ensure a 2m width between the two vehicles.

Cpt Wan testified that while he was not aware of provisions that stipulated one had to establish communications before overtaking, he personally would have honked the horn to make his intention clear.

The court heard that on Nov 3, 2018, the 42nd Battalion Singapore Armoured Regiment (42 SAR) was conducting a two-sided company mission exercise to train the operational capabilities of Kaffir Company.

Ong was there as a trainer to evaluate the opposition force exercise troops, determine the outcome of any "fire fights" that he saw, and ensure safety procedures were followed. He was also responsible for the safety of CFC Liu, who was the only other person in the Land Rover with him.

Among other missions, Kaffir Company was tasked to advance towards an objective, while the opposition force was tasked to delay them.

At about 9.57am one of the opposition force's Bionix vehicles spotted Kaffir Company Bionix vehicles and came to a complete stop before a T-junction.

Ong and CFC Liu were in the Land Rover and stopped 30m to 31m behind the opposition forces' Bionix.

Ong did not know why the Bionix had stopped before the junction, and ordered CFC Liu to overtake the Bionix on its left. As the Land Rover moved forward, the safety distance of 30m was no longer observed.

The Bionix fired at the Kaffir Company vehicles and reversed, as part of the drill in such engagements.

As he was overtaking the Bionix, CFC Liu heard the rounds that were fired and stopped the vehicle about 16m to 18m behind it.

The Bionix reversed and mounted the driver's side of the Land Rover, pinning CFC Liu in his seat. His cause of death was traumatic asphyxia.

If convicted, Ong could be jailed for up to five years, fined, or both.

The trial continues on Friday.

This article was first published in The Straits Times.

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