Tired from walking, the four boys stopped along the railroad tracks in Takeo province before dawn Sunday to rest. Soon they were asleep.
A rumbling in the ground woke one boy, but it was all he could do to scramble off the tracks before the train roared past, over his friends. Two of the boys were killed instantly, police officials say. The train sliced a leg off the third boy.
Sokhom Pheakavanmony, director of Cambodian Railways, said the train was late because it broke down enroute from Sihanoukville to Phnom Penh. He denied reports by local media and Agence France-Presse that the train was running at night because it was carrying timber bound for Vietnam.
Pal San, first deputy governor of Takeo province, said only that the train was hired by a businessman to transport goods to Phnom Penh.
While the children should not have been asleep on the tracks, said Pal San, “the train is also wrong because it ran late at night. Normally it never runs at night time like that. People did not think it would come then, so they lay on the railroad.”
In the aftermath of the deaths, government officials are warning people to stay clear of railroad tracks—a directive the Ministry of Public Works and Transport actually had issued two days before the accident.
The uninjured survivor, who authorities declined to identify, told police he and his friends were returning from a theater show in a nearby village when they stopped in Rumduol village to wait for a train home. They fell asleep nearby on the tracks.
The survivor told police he woke on hearing the train, but could not wake his friends.
Chiv Ly, 16, and Phoeun Phal, 18, were beheaded by the train’s wheels. Pen Phoeun, 17, was taken to the provincial hospital where his left leg, crushed by the train, was amputated. Khmer-language newspaper Rasmei Kampuchea (Light of Cambodia) reported Pen Phoeun bled to death at the hospital, but officials could not confirm this Tuesday.
Provincial Police Chief Nou Sangwa attributed the deaths to a “lack of attention” by the victims.
Sokhom Pheakavanmony said the conductors did not see the boys on the tracks and, even if they had, would not have been able to stop in time.
Last week, the Ministry of Public Works and Transport issued a directive that among other things asked people to pay close attention when near tracks.
“A number of people do not pay attention to the danger which may occur incidentally along the railroad,” Minister Khy Taing Lim said. “The Ministry hopes that our people will constantly pay attention to this directive in a bid to prevent accidents.”