Poipet City military police commander Ham Muth died in a Phnom Penh hotel in the early hours of the morning Tuesday after he plummeted four floors down its empty and unfinished elevator shaft, which had been left unfenced by construction workers.
Ham Muth, who was 39, died at the Midland Hotel in Tuol Kok district’s Boeng Kak I commune, staff at the hotel said, after he returned from dinner at about 3 a.m. with members of his family and a group of colleagues who were also staying at the hotel.
Kuy Leang, a member of the hotel reception staff, said the group checked into seven separate rooms at about 5 p.m. on Monday and departed for dinner shortly after.
Mr. Leang said the family of Ham Muth noticed he was missing from their room shortly after their return but presumed he had left the hotel to pursue further entertainment.
Finally, unable to contact Ham Muth, the family began searching the hotel in the hope that he was still there.
“At about 5 a.m. there was chaos with the victim missing, the children asking their mother, ‘Where is daddy?’” Mr. Leang said.
The search party found the military police commander lying face-first on the ground floor of the unfinished elevator shaft, wearing only a pair of black underpants.
He was pronounced dead on arrival at Calmette Hospital.
Surveillance footage uploaded to the Deum Ampil news website shows Ham Muth leaving his room and slowly pacing the corridors of the hotel in his underpants, but cuts off before his descent into the elevator shaft.
The footage, which is itself filmed from a display at the hotel, is time-stamped 8:49 a.m. Saturday, but hotel staff can be heard saying that the machine was incorrectly configured.
“The death of Lieutenant Colonel Ham Muth is being investigated, but for now we can conclude his death was by accidentally falling to the ground,” said Phnom Penh municipal military police commander Roth Sreang.
Lieutenant General Sreang, who was the commander of the military police in Banteay Meanchey province until last year, said that for years he had worked closely with Ham Muth.
“I am very sorry to have lost my best colleague, who was the best military police commander for the people of Poipet City,” Lt. Gen. Sreang said. “Even though I’m no longer Banteay Meanchey provincial military police commander, my colleagues and I regard him as a brother and family.”
“Lt. Col. Ham Muth was my generation of military police and my trainee, who obeyed the military police rules and did good work in his position as Poipet City commander,” he said.
Ork Borin, the new Banteay Meanchey provincial military police commander, said he was deeply saddened by the death but that a barrier should have been placed in front of the shaft entrance.
“We here in Banteay Meanchey province at the military police base are very sorry to hear that Lt. Col. Ham Muth died,” he said.
“It was an accident, but it was a big error by the hotel owner, who is responsible for the death.”
Mr. Borin said Ham Muth’s military police often cooperated with provincial forces to crack down on drugs being smuggled across the Thai border into Poipet City, a hub for narcotics trafficking.