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SAF captain sentenced to 5 months' jail over 2018 Bionix accident which killed NSF

SAF captain sentenced to 5 months' jail over 2018 Bionix accident which killed NSF

Ong Lin Jie leaving the State Courts on Nov 22, 2021. (Photo: TODAY/Ooi Boon Keong)

SINGAPORE: A Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) captain was sentenced to five months' jail on Thursday (Feb 24) for carrying out a rash act that caused the death of a full-time national serviceman (NSF) in 2018.

According to TODAY, 30-year-old Ong Lin Jie told the court through his lawyer that he will be filing an appeal against the conviction and sentence.

Ong was found guilty last year of one charge of committing a rash act not amounting to culpable homicide in the incident which led to NSF Liu Kai's death, after he was pinned in a Land Rover by a Bionix vehicle.

A regular officer and platoon trainer with the Armour Unit Training Regiment at the time, Ong was taking part in a three-day training exercise near Sungei Gedong Camp in November 2018 with the victim.

He was a platoon trainer, tasked to oversee the opposition force's manoeuvres and ensure that the force adhered to safety procedures. He was also the vehicle commander of the Land Rover driven by CFC Liu. 

However, District Judge Jasvender Kaur found in her judgement in November 2021 that Ong had failed to establish if it was safe to overtake a Bionix armoured vehicle by first communicating with the Bionix’s crew.

The armoured vehicle then reversed as part of a combat drill and mounted the driver’s side of the Land Rover, killing Liu.

"SELECTIVE AMNESIA"

Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Hay Hung Chun noted District Judge Kaur’s earlier conviction remarks that Ong had shown “selective amnesia” even after being confronted with “incontrovertible evidence”, reported TODAY.

For more than five months after the incident, Ong had suppressed during investigations the fact that he ordered Liu to overtake the Bionix.

The prosecution sought nine months’ jail, referring to precedents that included the case of Corporal Kok Yuen Chin, an NSF from the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) who died due to a ragging incident in May 2018.

However, Ong’s lawyer, Mr Thrumurgan from Trident Law Corporation, argued that his client’s case could be distinguished from the SCDF one because Ong had made a “judgment call in the context of a dynamic environment”.

“In the cold light of day, we can put all considerations together but then he was motivated by what he considered relevant — to move forward and see what was going on,” said Mr Thrumurgan, seeking three months’ jail for Ong.

DPP Hay said that Ong had seen a particular danger and “totally ignored it for no good reason”.

“He admitted he could not even see what was ahead of him. This is a basic and very fundamental tenet inculcated in SAF soldiers — safety is always an utmost priority in training,” said the prosecutor.

At the time, the soldiers were wearing a helmet system which comes with a headset for communication.

The prosecutor told the court that the system had not broken down and that intermittent interference happened "not infrequently”, with witnesses testifying that the helmet was working during the exercise but static had occurred.

He also argued that this fact was not relevant for sentencing purposes, which Mr Thrumurgan countered that it was - as the system was supposed to function, but did not.

Nathaniel Ho, the Bionix commander, had earlier testified that he was not aware of any other vehicles on the dirt road before reversing the Bionix, and that Ong had not communicated his intention to overtake.

District Judge Kaur said that the failure of the helmet's communication system was indeed relevant for sentencing Ong, noting that unlike the SCDF case where ragging was a prohibited act, Ong’s decision to overtake the Bionix “was not in and of itself a prohibited act, and did not in and of itself carry a risk of death”.

“Unlike (the other) cases where activities were prolonged, his decision was in the midst of a dynamic exercise and his motivation was to reposition his vehicle to keep observation. This does not justify the rash decision but it does put things into proper perspective,” she said.

However, there was a significant risk of overtaking the Bionix without establishing communications, as there was an “obvious risk” that the Bionix had sighted an enemy vehicle during the field exercise.

BACKGROUND OF THE CASE

The training exercise involved the Kaffir Company and Jaguar Company from the 42nd Battalion, Singapore Armoured Regiment and was meant to train Kaffir Company's operational capabilities.

Kaffir Company was tasked to advance towards and secure an objective known as the Murai Urban Training Facility, while the platoon from Jaguar Company acted as the "opposition force" for the exercise, and was to delay Kaffir Company's advance with a series of "delay lines" and simulated firefights.

The opposition force consisted of three Bionix Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFVs) - BX13A, BX13B and BX13, the vehicle involved in the fatal incident.

Ong was a platoon trainer, and his tasks involve overseeing the opposition force's manoeuvres and ensuring that the force adhered to safety procedures.

The Rover was assigned to him so he could move around the exercise area in his role as a platoon trainer.

Ong ordered the victim, who was posthumously promoted to Corporal First Class (CFC), to overtake BX13 without first establishing communications with the Bionix and when it was unsafe to do so.

As a result, the Bionix - an armoured tracked vehicle armed with either a cannon or an automatic grenade launcher and heavy machine gun - reversed into the Land Rover, mounting the driver's side and pinning CFC Liu in his seat.

The prosecution had argued that Ong had rashly ordered CFC Liu to overtake the Bionix, "despite having every reason to believe that it was dangerous to do so in the circumstances".

"His rash act placed the Land Rover in an unsafe proximity to BX13, which was the substantial cause of the collision, and ultimately, Liu Kai's death," they said.

Source: TODAY/ic(gr)

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