Tampines accident: 'Pain just too raw'

SINGAPORE - In the past year, Madam Suliani Ang went past the cross-junction of Tampines Avenue 9 and Tampines Street 45 only twice.

It was the spot where her two boys were killed when a cement truck rammed into them as they were cycling home from school exactly one year ago.

"I didn't have the courage. The pain was just too raw for me," she told The New Paper in an interview yesterday at her new home in Choa Chu Kang.

Her elder son, Nigel, 13, had volunteered to pick up his brother, Donavan, seven, from school after the latter's wushu class.

The cement truck driver, Munir Mohd Naim, 57, was jailed for two weeks and is banned from driving all vehicles for five years on his release.

In sentencing, District Judge Tan Boon Heng stressed that motorists, especially those driving heavy vehicles, must exercise greater care.

It is now a relief for Madam Ang that she does not have to go anywhere near the junction since they moved to Choa Chu Kang last November.

"As much as we have moved on, it was still difficult to walk past or go anywhere close to that junction," she said.

Her husband, Mr Francis Yap, 42, knew of her fear and would make a detour if she was in the car.

But on the two occasions she went past the junction, she was in their church friends' cars.

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Madam Ang recalled: "The first time, I shut my eyes really tightly and I could hear my erratic heartbeat.

"The second time, I tried to be brave and kept my eyes open, but when the car turned at the junction, I suddenly felt like I couldn't breathe, and I had to clutch my chest to try and stem the intense pain that shot through my heart."

Mr Yap, a Singapore Armed Forces regular, told The New Paper that the pain of going past the junction was just as intense for him.

"I'd protect my wife and make a big detour, but when I was alone in the car, I made it a point to take our regular route," he said.

"I believe that you have to pick yourself up from where you have fallen."

It was especially painful when he drove past the boys' school as it made him recall the times he sent them to school and picked them up after their classes.

Madam Ang said that rebuilding their lives after the tragedy was hard for the first few months.

MEMORIES

"Everywhere we turned in our neighbourhood, memories of our boys were there - eating at the coffee shop, playing at the playground," she said.

"My husband and I discussed it and one day, we told each other, 'We have to get out of here'."

Madam Ang said she and her husband also thought a trip would help them cope with their loss, but it turned out to be even more unbearable as they were reminded of the boys.

She said: "We booked ourselves an eight-day tour to Taiwan, but by the third day, my husband had to literally hold on to me.

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"I was like a soul-less body, walking from one point to another. We were just missing our sons so badly."

When they reached Singapore, they went home to drop their luggage off before heading straight to the boys' niche at Mandai Crematorium and Columbarium. The couple still make regular trips there every fortnight.

She said her elderly parents found it so hard to overcome their grief that they decided to move back to their hometown in Batam, Indonesia.

Madam Ang said: "My mother kept crying and every little thing reminded her and my father of our boys."

Tears marked the first two months after her sons' deaths, but it also brought a surreal sense of relief.

"After each bout of crying my heart out, I became stronger and calmer."

Life has gone on for Madam Ang, who is now much calmer than she was in our first interview after the boys' funeral last year.

She said: "I found strength in God and through church, I spend most of my time now volunteering for various activities.

"These fill me with a sense of purpose and allow me time to see how there are others who may be more unfortunate than us."

In fact, just hours before the interview, Madam Ang had travelled from Choa Chu Kang to Toa Payoh for her weekly volunteer work at the Care Corner Seniors Activity Centre.

"It fills me with hope, knowing that I can still make a difference and bring a smile to others.

"It took me a while to walk out of the darkness in my life, where I just could not control the tears or the overwhelming despair," she said, her voice trailing off for several seconds.

"But I am sure my boys will be very proud of their daddy and mummy now. Just as I am certain they are very happy now in heaven.

"And as a mother, that is enough for me."

 
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