Senior CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap on Monday defended his decision to leave the scene of a fatal traffic accident in Kandal province’s Kien Svay district on Friday morning, arguing that he had not broken the law because he had immediately called his lawyer after the crash and asked him to “solve the problem.”
Article 36 of the Traffic Law states that in case of an accident, “drivers [and] all road users involved in the accident and bystanders must…stop their own vehicles immediately…[and] report immediately to the local authority or the traffic police.”
“Leaving from the accident site is prohibited…without the permission of the traffic police,” Article 36 states.
At about 9:30 a.m. on Friday, Moeun Tha and his wife, Pin Sophea, both 26, were driving their motorbike on National Road 1 in Kien Svay when they attempted to overtake a truck and smashed into the front of Mr. Yeap’s Lexus SUV, which was traveling in the opposite direction.
The couple was thrown from the vehicle and landed on the asphalt.
Mr. Yeap’s car did not stop and, according to witnesses, dragged the couple’s motorbike, which was trapped beneath his Lexus, about 50 meters from the crash site.
Ms. Sophea died of her injuries on Friday afternoon at Phnom Penh’s Calmette Hospital, where her husband remains in critical condition with a ruptured kidney. The couple were left at the side of the road for up to 30 minutes before they were transported to a local medical clinic.
“I have immunity, and I was not the driver,” Mr. Yeap said of his decision to leave the scene of the accident, explaining that as a government official, his safety would have been jeopardized had he stepped out of the car.
“I would like to tell you that in the party, I am a politician, and people have been killed before [in mob violence] in that area. They don’t care if you are right or wrong.”
Mr. Yeap also insisted that he had not violated the Traffic Law by not remaining at the scene of the crash, emphasizing that he had called his lawyer immediately after the accident and asked him to deal with the aftermath.
“I was not escaping. I have my lawyer, and I called my lawyer right away…. I was not trying to escape,” he said of his decision to leave the scene of the crash.
“We’ve already solved the problem,” he added.
Mr. Yeap’s lawyer, Kar Savuth, said on Sunday that Mr. Yeap had paid about $1,000 to the victim’s family as a gesture of sympathy.
District police chief Pa Sam Et said Monday that Mr. Yeap should have ordered his driver to stop following the collision—as long as he had been aware of the accident.
“If he knew [that there had been an accident], he should have stopped, but I’m not sure that he knew,” Mr. Sam Et said, adding that he has sent documents detailing the police investigation of the crash to the provincial court.
In Vanvibol, director of the Kandal Provincial Court, declined to comment on whether there would be an investigation into the hit-and-run.
Without naming Mr. Yeap explicitly, Sao Sovanratnak, the World Health Organization’s local officer in charge of road safety and injury, said that no citizens should be above the country’s traffic regulations.
“Everybody must comply with the law,” Mr. Sovanratnak said.
“A high-ranking official, if you hit and run like that…that is very sad…. You have to show a good example to the people,” he said.
“We want to introduce a culture of responsibility. If you hit people, get out of the car and help those people, call the police, call the emergency services. You should not run,” he added.
Ear Chariya, road safety program manager at Handicap International, said that while many drivers in Cambodia fear being attacked by angry witnesses in the wake of a crash, only those who attempt to flee the scene are generally at risk of mob violence.
“Only those trying to get away get beaten up,” Mr. Chariya said.
Opposition lawmaker-elect Son Chhay criticized Mr. Yeap’s decision to leave the crash site.
“He is the one who creates the law, makes the law, and he is the one violating the law,” Mr. Chhay said, adding that had Mr. Yeap taken Pin Sophea to the hospital immediately, she might have lived.
“You could be responsible for the death of that woman, because if you were able to take her to the hospital on time, you might [have] saved her life,” he said.