Three children were killed and six people were seriously injured in a horrific traffic accident on Phnom Penh’s Norodom Boulevard on Friday, after a 23-year-old woman attempted to flee the scene of two earlier minor crashes.
In rush-hour traffic on Friday evening, medical student Keampisith Narita was driving south toward her home in Takhmao City in her Toyota Camry when she had a collision near the Independence Monument, knocking over a motorcycle, said deputy municipal traffic police chief Tin Vansy.
In a panic, Ms. Narita then sped from the scene and collided with another motorcycle near the Thai Embassy. But instead of stopping, Ms. Narita once again drove away, even though neither of the two drivers had been seriously injured.
Accelerating away, the driver then careered into oncoming traffic in front of the Interior Ministry, hitting a total of nine motorcycles and four cyclists, according to Mr. Vansy. It was this crash that killed sisters Rin Bopha, 12, and Rin Rachna, 8, from nearby Tonle Bassac commune, who were riding a bicycle, he said.
The tragic episode also killed 8-year-old Srim Bunhong, from Kandal province’s Prek Tameak commune in Khsach Kandal district, who was a passenger on the motorcycle of his sister, Srim Chantho, 16, who was also seriously injured, Mr. Vansy said.
He added that five others were seriously injured in the carnage.
“The parents of the medical student came to our police station and they claimed that their daughter has a mental illness,” he said, adding that they suggested Ms. Narita had been suffering from stress after studying hard at the University of Health Sciences.
“But we did a medical check and did not find this characteristic,” Mr. Vansy said.
The Phnom Penh Municipal Court charged Ms. Narita with unintentional killing on Sunday, said deputy prosecutor Chet Khemara.
“We charged the woman and we handed her case, with the evidence, to the investigating judge [Y Thaoverak] to manage,” he said.
The incident on Friday evening brought more than 80 monks from Phnom Penh’s pagodas to the scene of the crash yesterday, where they performed a procession along the stretch of road where the series of accidents occurred.
The monks walked around the Independence Monument and all the way down Norodom Boulevard, stopping for a few minutes near the site of the major crash. A solemn crowd of almost 100 people gathered and prayed in silence as the monks blessed the tarmac with holy water.
“We are marching and chanting to ward off bad luck for all the people who travel on this road,” said the Venerable Thay Sam Ath, from Wat Ounalom in Daun Penh district.
While articles 80, 81 and 82 of the traffic law state that drivers who commit a hit-and-run face a maximum prison sentence of three years if found guilty, sentencing is rare for drivers who flee the scene of an accident.
Experts say the culture of hit-and-runs is worsening, due in part to fears of retribution by errant drivers who do not want to be held accountable—legally and financially—for hurting or killing the victim of a traffic accident.
Leak Sokunthearin, 35, the mother of Rin Bopha and Rin Rachna, said the crash had left her with just one daughter.
“I’m very sad and grieving for the loss of my two daughters at the same time,” she said.
Ms. Sokunthearin also said that she had already begun negotiating with Ms. Narita’s parents for compensation.
“I demanded $200,000 for each dead daughter, but they have not yet agreed with my request,” she said.
Srim Bunhong’s father, Sreng Srim, 36, said that he had not yet got around to discussing compensation, as his other child was still receiving medical treatment at the Chak Angre Krom referral hospital.
According to figures from the Ministry of Interior, 1,894 people died on Cambodia’s roads last year. Hit-and-runs are also not uncommon.