Tanjong Pagar car crash: Coroner rules accident that killed 5 people was a traffic misadventure
The driver and all four passengers died when their car crashed into a shophouse on Tanjong Pagar Road and was engulfed by flames.
SINGAPORE: A fatal car crash that killed five people at Tanjong Pagar Road last year was a traffic-related misadventure, State Coroner Adam Nakhoda ruled on Wednesday (Aug 24).
The driver of the car, Mr Jonathan Long Junwei, and all four passengers – Mr Eugene Yap Zheng Min, Mr Elvin Tan Yong Hao, Mr Teo Qi Xiang and Mr Gary Wong Hong Chieh – died in the collision at about 5.40am on Feb 13, 2021.
All of them were colleagues or ex-colleagues who had gathered at Hong Jjajang restaurant on Tanjong Pagar Road for Chinese New Year celebrations earlier that night.
Mr Long was speeding and drink-driving in the moments before the crash, the court previously heard during a coroner's inquiry into the deaths.
Forensic analysis showed the BMW M4 Coupe was travelling at "staggering" speeds averaging 148 kmh to 182 kmh when Mr Long was driving, Judge Nakhoda said.
The speed limit on Tanjong Pagar Road was 50 kmh.
Judge Nakhoda said this showed a "shocking lack of consideration" for Mr Long's own safety, as well as the safety of his passengers and other road users.
A police investigator also testified that Mr Long's blood alcohol level was 86mg per 100ml at the time, which is above the legal limit of 80mg.
Prior to the crash, the car was driven three rounds around a circuit on Tanjong Pagar Road, with different drivers each time.
The circuit went from Hong Jjajang restaurant at 93 Tanjong Pagar Road towards Keppel. A U-turn at Enggor Street brought the car back along Tanjong Pagar Road towards Maxwell, before it then made another U-turn near 37 Tanjong Pagar Road to return to the restaurant.
During these rounds, Mr Long was "very persuasive" and "insisted" on competing to see who could drive faster, according to evidence cited by the police investigator.
Judge Nakhoda said there appeared to have been an "element of bravado". He said it appeared that Mr Long had intended to show the others how fast the car could be driven.
But there was no evidence that Mr Long had encouraged or cajoled anyone to get into the car. They appeared to have entered voluntarily and there was clear excitement among them, said the judge.
When it was his turn for the fourth round, Mr Long lost control of the car. It drifted, swerved and rotated almost 180 degrees, before mounting the kerb and rear-ending a pillar at a shophouse at 37 Tanjong Pagar Road.
Before that, Mr Long may have been braking heavily as white smoke could be seen emerging from the car's tyres in video footage of the incident, said Judge Nakhoda.
Autopsies determined that all five men died of severe burns in the fire that engulfed the car and shophouse into which it crashed. Mr Teo and Mr Wong also died of a cervical spine injury and pelvic injuries respectively.
Three of the bodies were identified through fingerprints a day after the incident, while the remaining two bodies were identified by DNA profiling on Feb 16, 2021.
The fire originated from the car's undercarriage, a senior fire investigator from the Singapore Civil Defence Force previously testified.
The collision severely damaged the car's exhaust system and also ruptured its fuel tank, causing petrol to leak and vaporise.
As vaporised petrol accumulated in the narrow space under the car, it likely ignited after coming into contact with the hot surface of the exhaust system. Combustible plastics in the vehicle's undercarriage could also have been another source of fuel for the fire.
Firefighters responding to calls for assistance arrived at the scene at 5.46am, but were unable to approach the car due to the intensity of the heat.
They managed to extinguish the blaze at 6.08am, and the bodies were subsequently extricated from the vehicle.
Judge Nakhoda said that the Traffic Police had warned of the dangers of drink-driving, speeding and a combination of both, which could have devastating consequences.
He said the case should serve as a reminder to people to never drive under the influence of alcohol, and even less so in combination with excessively fast speeds and bravado.
A "moment of recklessness" cost Mr Long his life and also led to the death of his four passengers, said the judge.
He also emphasised the importance of wearing seatbelts when travelling in a car, pointing to the cervical injuries suffered by Mr Teo.
Mr Teo, who was seated in the centre rear seat, did not have access to a seatbelt. It could not be determined if the other people in the car were wearing seatbelts due to the damage the car sustained.
After the hearing, Mr Long's father told reporters that the release of the coroner's findings brought closure to his family, saying: "We have to move on."
He said his family also continued to support his son's former girlfriend Ms Raybe Oh, whom he referred to as "my daughter".
Ms Oh, who was with the group on the night of the crash, ran into the flames to try to help the car's occupants. She suffered severe burns.
A coroner's inquiry is a fact-finding process to look into the circumstances that led to a death. Coroners are prohibited from framing a finding to determine any question of criminal liability.