Seven men and a woman were killed in Kratie province on Tuesday when the dilapidated truck that was ferrying them to work on a cassava plantation overturned on a narrow dirt track, officials said. Twelve more people, including the driver, were also injured.
The accident happened at about 9 a.m. in Snuol district’s Khsoem commune, when the driver of the flatbed truck, carrying 19 informal workers, lost control of the vehicle, which plunged over a shallow embankment, crushing the passengers under its falling weight, according to Thorn Poch, deputy chief of the provincial traffic police.
“Six people died instantly when the makeshift [passenger] truck fell on them and crushed their bodies and two more died while the doctor tried to treat them at the provincial hospital,” he said, adding that the driver of the vehicle, Chan Than, suffered severe injuries to his chest and legs and was the most seriously injured of the survivors.
“He has been sent to a Phnom Penh hospital because both his legs are broken and his pelvis and chest are badly injured,” Mr. Poch said.
Mr. Poch said police had yet to identify the dead or the company they were working for but added that informal workers were picked up every day by similarly ramshackle vehicles, to work on one of the many cassava plantations in the area.
“The drivers usually use the dirt track as a shortcut compared to National Road 7 and it saves gasoline,” he said, adding that accidents are common along the bumpy track.
District police chief Chea Sokim said the accident was the fault of the driver, who is now under police supervision at an unnamed hospital in Phnom Penh.
“I believe the driver drove too fast and was careless,” Mr. Sokim said. “It is a rugged road so incidents can happen at any time, but this is the first time we have seen a case where eight people have died.”
There are few safeguards to protect the agriculture workers—employed seasonally according to crops and on a day-to-day basis—who are put at risk as a result of cost-cutting by farm owners who bypass newer roads to save on gasoline and keep out of sight of authorities.
According to Hean Chiv Kun, the provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc, the driver was in fact the owner of the plantation.
“The victims were on their way to the Khmer Angkor Company in Snuol district and the driver is the owner of the company,” she said.
Ms. Chiv Kun said she had not yet discovered which Phnom Penh hospital the driver is being treated at but said she hoped he would be able to help identify the victims, who had no documents and were part of a workforce that is mostly transient and not contracted.
“Last year, two people died at the same place and we are surprised now to see that has happened again, but much worse,” she said. “So far, we have not received any complaints from families of the dead or injured.”