Thai engineer accused of killing teen seeks protection

Ambiguous facts and sketchy details have triggered a fiery online debate following a middle-aged engineer's recent fatal shooting of a 17-year-old schoolboy.

Aggressive comments on social media have led to claims that the engineer, 50-year-old Suthep Poshsomboon, and his family have received death threats, prompting them to seek protection from the Justice Ministry.

The shooting took place in Chon Buri on Saturday after an argument about parking at a local market, which was followed by a road-rage incident and a fistfight.

Suthep and his wife are scheduled to meet with Justice Ministry deputy permanent secretary Dusadee Arayawuth this afternoon, according to the official.

They will possibly seek legal advice and apply for entry into the witness protection programme because the family had allegedly been threatened, he added.

Justice Ministry permanent secretary Chanchao Chaiyanukij said the ministry had a "justice clinic" in which representatives of the Lawyers' Council of Thailand provided legal advice to the public.

He said officials would first consider people's status in the case - as witnesses, damaged persons or suspects - and then consider if witness protection should be granted.

Suthep is from Bangkok, as was the killed teenager.

Social media has been dominated by a heated debate regarding the incident, following strong comments in the mainstream media by the dead teenager's mother and his friends.

Celebrities have also given their opinions on social media, sympathising with the engineer.

Actress and TV talk-show host Panadda "Boom" Wongphudee said in an Instagram message yesterday that if she were in a situation in which her elderly mother and young child were being threatened by a group of youngsters, "I would have shot them with all the bullets in the magazine".

However, she also said that everyone involved in the incident was wrong for allowing it to happen in the first place.

Actor and singer Parunyu "Tack" Rojanawuttitum said in an Instagram message: "I would have depleted my [gun] magazine. With children and old parents in the car, I would have to protect them and would not allow you to beat them up."

Earlier, celebrity Kiat Kitcharoen said in a Facebook message: "I am 53. Should I have to allow youngsters to beat me up just because they are young? If I have a gun and I can't shoot, do you want me to throw it at them?"

Meanwhile, police said yesterday the investigation into the incident could take months.

Saen Suk Police Station deputy superintendent Pol Lt-Colonel Theerawat Chansriphetch said police were waiting for forensic test results on the gun and a report on the suspect's criminal history before they could end their investigation and pass the case report to prosecutors.

He said camera footage of the incident supported evidence police already had that a group of teenagers surrounded and threatened the engineer and his family.

Both sides in the incident give different accounts of the incident on social media.

The teenagers claim Suthep had chased them and they stopped their van to "negotiate" with him but he pulled out a gun and killed the Mathayom 4 student.

Suthep claims the single gunshot was in self defence because the teenagers were chasing him and allegedly surrounded his car, with his wife, mother and nephew inside.

Suthep has been charged with the lethal use of a firearm and murder and granted bail.

Rear-view camera footage available online yesterday, apparently from Suthep's car, showed the van turning on its high-beam headlights while chasing Suthep's vehicle.

Asked if the teenagers involved would face charges, Theerawat said Suthep had not filed a complaint.

However, he said police were aware of an alleged threat against the life of Suthep on the Facebook page of the deceased student's friend, which would entitle Suthep to file a lawsuit based on Computer Crime Act violations.

Chon Buri police chief Pol Maj-General Somprasong Yentuam said police needed time to carefully probe the "sensitive" case to ensure justice for both sides. He said police had interviewed 10 eyewitnesses and three more still had to give evidence.

Also yesterday, outspoken former politician Chuwit Kamolvisit, who was jailed for the demolition of bars on Sukhumvit Road in 2003 and released by royal pardon last year, urged society not to celebrate the shooting.

Chuwit, who has become a TV host following his release, said in a Facebook post that Suthep would be prosecuted if the court found him guilty in the shooting.

He asked the public to demonstrate responsible behaviour if the engineer is jailed.

"We don't live in an era of cowboys when people just use guns to settle arguments. When a man commits a wrongdoing, he must be punished," Chuwit wrote.

"He shot someone dead, he will face prosecution. If you point a gun, an action for which you can foresee the outcome, it could even lead to a premeditated murder charge."

He added that public opinion did not necessarily reflect reality.

Democrat Party politician Nipit Intarasombat said yesterday that all the facts should be taken into account in order to ensure justice for both sides.

He said it had yet to be determined whether the shooting was in self defence and justified.

The former MP also cautioned against comments such as "I would deplete my gun magazine".

He said no one enjoyed being a defendant in court, particularly on a murder charge.