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5 months’ jail upheld for SAF captain who gave rash order to overtake Bionix in fatal incident

5 months’ jail upheld for SAF captain who gave rash order to overtake Bionix in fatal incident

Source: Straits Times
Article Date: 10 May 2023
Author: Selina Lum

Court rejects his appeal against conviction and prosecution's call for nine-month term.

The High Court on Tuesday upheld a five-month jail term handed down to a Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) captain over a rash act that led to the death of a full-time national serviceman during a training exercise in 2018.

Justice See Kee Oon dismissed an appeal by prosecutors seeking a longer jail term of nine months, and also dismissed Ong Lin Jie’s appeal against his conviction and sentence.

Ong, 31, then a platoon trainer with the Armour Unit Training Centre, was in a Land Rover driven by Corporal First Class (CFC) Liu Kai during the drill on Nov 3, 2018.

At one point, Ong, who was there to evaluate the troops, ordered CFC Liu to overtake a stationary Bionix armoured vehicle, putting the two vehicles within the 30m safety distance.

The Bionix then reversed and mounted the Land Rover, killing the 22-year-old driver. Ong escaped through the window on the passenger side.

Following a trial, Ong was convicted in November 2021 after a district judge found that his decision to order CFC Liu to overtake was rash because it was unsafe to breach the 30m safety distance without first establishing communications with the Bionix.

Ong, who has since been suspended from service, was sentenced in February 2022.

At the appeal hearing in April, Ong’s lawyer, Mr R. Thrumurgan, submitted an expert report and argued that the incident would likely still have happened even if Ong had kept the 30m safety distance.

He said there were other contributory causes, such as the driver of the Bionix making an “unexpected” steer to the left while reversing and the failure of the Bionix driver to hear the command to stop owing to an intercom malfunction.

On Tuesday, Justice See agreed with prosecutors that a number of the key factual assumptions made by the expert, Mr Grant Johnston, were not well founded.

“As his conclusions are premised on these assumptions, I am unable to place much weight, if any, on the expert report,” he said.

The judge noted that in extrapolating the reversing path of the Bionix, the expert had wrongly assumed that the Land Rover would remain stationary and that the armoured vehicle would continue reversing indefinitely.

Justice See said the expert was tasked with working with a hypothetical scenario, and that his assumptions did not take into account the dynamic nature of the circumstances. 

The judge said both the intercom malfunction and the reversal manoeuvre did not displace the lack of safety distance resulting from Ong’s order to overtake the Bionix as a substantial cause of the accident.

“The appellant’s order was the effective cause of the lack of safety distance, resulting in insufficient reaction time for all parties involved in the extrication drill,” he said.

As for the sentence, Deputy Public Prosecutor Hay Hung Chun had cited precedents including the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) ragging incident in 2018, which led to the death of a serviceman after he was forced into a 12m-deep pump well as part of a ritual known as “kolam”.

Justice See said it was clear that Ong’s culpability was well below that of the offenders in the SCDF ragging case, who had acted deliberately in carrying out a prohibited act on the victim.

The judge said he saw no cogent reasons to interfere with Ong’s sentence.

Source: Straits Times © SPH Media Limited. Permission required for reproduction.


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