7 indicted in Taiwan's deadliest train crash in decades

04/16/2021 10:40 PM
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A slide used by the Hualien District Prosecutors Office to explain its findings regarding the April 2 train crash. CNA photo April 16, 2021
A slide used by the Hualien District Prosecutors Office to explain its findings regarding the April 2 train crash. CNA photo April 16, 2021

Taipei, April 16 (CNA) The Hualien District Prosecutors Office on Friday indicted seven individuals for offenses related to the Taroko Express train crash on April 2 that killed 49 people and injured more than 200 others, the deadliest train accident Taiwan has seen in seven decades.

Lee Yi-hsiang (李義祥), the driver of the crane truck that fell onto the track just a minute before the train crashed into it as it was entering a tunnel, was charged with negligence causing death, according to a press release issued by the district prosecutors office.

Also indicted on the same charge was a 26-year-old Vietnamese migrant worker Hoa Van Hao, who worked for Lee.

According to investigators, Lee was working on a slope stabilization project next to the track that day when his truck accidentally slid part of the way down a slope and got stuck amid some bushes.

He used a strap to tie the truck to an excavator, then tried to use the excavator to pull the truck up, but the strap broke, causing the truck to roll down to the track near Qingshui Tunnel in Hualien County. Hoa helped him during the process.

After his truck had initially slid down the slope and after the train crash occurred, Lee was found to have only called the contractors he worked with in the Taiwan Railway Administration's (TRA's) outsourced slope stabilization project along its North Link Line from Su'ao to Hualien, prosecutors said.

He was even seen to have stood on the side at the scene, with no intention of helping with rescue efforts after the deadly crash occurred, according to the news release.

Lee was therefore also indicted for escaping after the accident.

Prosecutors are seeking the maximum penalty of five years in jail for Lee for the alleged offense of negligence causing death and the maximum punishment of seven years imprisonment for allegedly escaping after the accident, chief prosecutor Chou Fang-yi (周芳怡) said.

Migrant worker Hoa faces up to three years imprisonment if convicted.

Meanwhile, Lee Chin-fu (李進福), the supervision chief of United Geotech, Inc. (聯合大地), a construction consultant company hired to oversee the progress of the slope stabilization project, and construction security manager Chang Chi Fu-tsai (張齊富財) of United Geotech were indicted on the charges of negligence causing deaths and forgery.

Apart from their failure to do their job well, they were found to have helped Lee Yi-hsiang in evading the TRA's inspections with forged documents that were used to cover up the fact that the construction progress was badly delayed, according to the press release.

Prosecutors sought four years of imprisonment for Lee Chin-fu and Chang Chi, Chou said.

In addition, Lee Yi-hsiang and his work partner Lin Chang-ching (林長清), as well as Huang Ping-ho (黃平和) and his son Huang Wen-li (黃文利), both of whom run Tung Hsin Construction Co. (東新營造公司), the contractor of the TRA slope stabilization project, were accused of violating the Government Procurement Act and other laws related to business accounting and taxation.

Lee and Lin were found to have borrowed a construction license from Tung Hsin, which they used to win the bid for the TRA project. The Huangs and their company Tung Hsin broke the law for helping with the bidding in exchange for financial profits, the press release said.

Prosecutors did not say what kind of penalty they are seeking for the three men.

The indictment came at the end of the "first round" of investigations by the prosecutors office into the accident, with seven out of 10 suspects charged over various offenses, Chou said.

She said the investigation was still ongoing, and will focus on unearthing whether TRA had committed any offenses in how it sought contractors for the project, whether there were offenses involving the companies hired to design, oversee and manage the project, and whether there are any responsibilities on the part of Lee Yi-hsiang's company and Tung Hsin.

(By Chang Chi and Elizabeth Hsu)

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