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Taxi driver jailed over crash that killed NUS undergrad Kathy Ong

Taxi driver jailed over crash that killed NUS undergrad Kathy Ong

Taxi driver Yap Kok Hua was behind the wheel in the crash that killed Ms Kathy Ong, 19. (Photos: TODAY, Kathy Ong's family)

SINGAPORE: A taxi driver behind the wheel in a crash that killed a passenger and injured three others on the way to the National University of Singapore (NUS) was sentenced to eight weeks' jail on Friday (Aug 2).

Yap Kok Hua, 55, was also banned from driving for five years.

He had pleaded guilty to one charge of a negligent act not amounting to culpable homicide and a second of causing grievous hurt to the surviving three passengers.

The crash on the night of Apr 19, 2018 occurred at the junction of Commonwealth Avenue West and Clementi Road.

Yap took a discretionary right turn when the green right-turn arrow was unlit, and collided with an oncoming car going straight. The driver of the other vehicle, 21-year-old Ng Li Ning, was going at a speed between 92kmh and 97kmh, and could not avoid Yap.

The collision threw NUS undergrad Kathy Ong, 19, partially out of the window, and she died in hospital from multiple injuries.

The other three passengers suffered injuries ranging from multiple lacerations, a spine fracture and traumatic brain injury.

READ: Taxi driver in accident that killed NUS undergrad Kathy Ong pleads guilty

"CLEARLY UNSAFE" TO MAKE RIGHT TURN: JUDGE

Principal District Judge Victor Yeo rejected the defence's point that the other driver had been speeding, saying the conduct of the other driver was not a mitigating factor in the case.

"Quite clearly the duty in this case must be on Yap when making the right turn at the junction, to not only give way to oncoming vehicles which had the right of way, but that he should also not attempt to make the right turn when it was clearly unsafe to do so," said the judge.

He said he did not think Yap's culpability could be reduced as he had, by his own negligent conduct, caused the crash that took the life of one passenger and injured three others through no fault of theirs.

The judge said he had studied the closed-circuit television footage as well as the statement of facts and it was clear that Yap could see the other driver approaching at a high speed.

He added that Yap "must have been aware that it was not safe to accelerate his taxi to execute the right turn".

"The consciousness of risk, in this case, is very high. The line between negligence and rashness in this case is very fine," said the judge, who had adjourned the sentencing previously to deliberate on it.

"This is notwithstanding that the front vehicle or that two other motorcycles had managed to clear the traffic junction without incident," he added.

"To that extent, with the greatest respect to the learned defence counsel, I am not able to agree with the submission that this case was a case of misjudgment on the part of Yap, or that it’s a unique case in stark contrast with those cases where the offender proceeded to drive through without stopping whatsoever."

The judge added that he could not ignore the accused’s previous driving offences, including his failure to conform to red-light signals on three previous occasions and speeding on two previous occasions, and that it was "relevant to this case".

READ: Scrap discretionary right turns at all junctions soon, MPs urge as Road Traffic Act amendments passed

MOTORISTS MUST EXERCISE "EXTRA CAUTION" AT JUNCTIONS

The prosecution had called for at least eight weeks' jail, calling the case “a serious one with awful consequences”.

Yap's defence lawyers, Josephus Tan and Cory Wong from Invictus Law Corporation, had urged the court for six weeks' jail at most, saying Yap had pleaded guilty and that the other driver had been speeding. 

The case for the other driver Ng is in the pre-trial conference stage.

He was charged in February with dangerous driving and is accused of going at a speed of 92kmh - more than the 70kmh speed limit - colliding with Yap's cab.

The judge noted a traffic police road safety advisory cited by the prosecution stating that 36 fatal accidents were recorded at signalised right-turn junctions between Jan 1, 2018 and Apr 25, 2018. A total of 38 people died from these accidents, four more than the same period the previous year.

"Accidents in traffic junctions remain a grave concern and the traffic police highlighted that it is important for motorists to exercise extra caution and to always slow down when approaching traffic junctions," said the judge.

"At signalised right-turn junctions, motorists must wait until it is safe to cross before making the right turn."

Ms Ong's family declined to comment after the hearing, saying they “just need some time”.

For committing a negligent act not amounting to culpable homicide, Yap could have been jailed for up to two years and fined.

He could have been jailed for up to two years and fined S$5,000 for causing grievous hurt by a negligent act.

Source: CNA/ll(mi)

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