No Charges For Official Who Killed Two With SUV

A top government official involved in a car crash that killed a husband and wife will not face charges after the Kandal Provincial Court decided to drop the case, even though the key eyewitness claims he did not even see the accident happen.

Nuon Someth, an undersecretary of state at the Tourism Ministry, was detained by provincial police on April 12 last year after the Toyota Land Cruiser he was driving to Phnom Penh crashed into a motorbike on National Road 1. The motorbike driver, Mith Sothea, 38, died at the scene, and his wife, Khorn Yeth, 32, died a few weeks later.

Mr. Someth claims his SUV struck the motorbike, which was heading in the opposite direction, after it was clipped on the front left side by an oncoming truck that fled the scene.

The undersecretary, at his request, was released from police custody hours after the crash.

Court prosecutor Lim Sokuntha later said he ordered the release based on the police account of the collision and because Mr. Someth had agree to pay $5,500 to the victims’ families.

Mr. Someth returned to the court for questioning in June, along with a witness and relative of Mith Sothea. Police claim that witnesses told them they saw a truck—which was never found—clip Mr. Someth’s Toyota before the SUV ran into the motorbike.

Police told reporters in May that they had recorded the name of only one of the witnesses, Tat Saing, the owner of a small motorbike repair shop on the side of the road where the crash occurred.

Mr. Saing, however, told reporters in May that he was not watching the road when the collision occurred, did not see the crash and said as much to police.

“I just heard the sound of the crash, but I didn’t see the car crash with the motorbike with my eyes,” he said at the time.

Under Cambodian law, causing a fatal crash carries a sentence of one to three years in prison, and two to five years if the crash causes multiple deaths or if the perpetrator is intoxicated. However, it is common practice in Cambodia for police and courts not to pursue charges against those who cause fatal accidents when they pay compensation to the victims’ families.

Contacted on Wednesday, deputy prosecutor Sam Rithyveasna said he decided to drop the case last month because Mr. Someth had done nothing wrong.

“I dropped this case and will not proceed with it because it was not his mistake,” he said. “He is a victim because his car did not hit the motorbike directly.”

Mr. Someth declined to comment on the court’s decision.

Questions still surround the case and differing accounts from witnesses.

Three other people who claimed to have witnessed the accident, but declined to give their names for fear of retaliation, told reporters in April that they did not see a truck clip the SUV before it ran into the motorbike. One of the three also said that immediately after the accident, a passenger who emerged from the SUV scolded the driver for ignoring his advice not to drive drunk.

Prum Samnang, deputy Kien Svay district police chief, said at the time that there was no equipment on hand to test Mr. Someth’s blood alcohol level. But he said he believed the undersecretary was not intoxicated, judging by his appearance.

Mr. Saing, the shop owner, declined to comment on Wednesday on the court’s decision or about the fact that police and court officials say he saw the accident, contrary to his previous statement.

“I gave my answer to the court already, so I don’t want to talk about it again,” he said. “It is the court’s decision, so I don’t want to be involved with this case anymore.”

Sarom Sokha, a nephew of Mith Sothea, the motorbike driver who died in the crash, also declined to comment. Last year, he lamented the lack of charges, but said he had accepted the court’s decision because the family had already taken Mr. Someth’s money.

Asked on Wednesday about the discrepancy between the police and witness accounts, Mr. Rithyveasna said the damage sustained by the SUV could not have been caused by something as light as a motorbike, corroborating the claim that it was clipped by a truck.

“People can change their answers, but the evidence, like the car, cannot change and it is very clear,” he said.

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