Police Passive in Search for Hit-and-Run Driver

Three days after Irishman Tomas Beecher was hit and killed by a Range Rover late last month while walking his bicycle across Monivong Boulevard in Phnom Penh, police vowed to arrest the driver.

But more than 10 days later, the court has yet to issue an arrest warrant for the young woman believed to have been behind the wheel, who remains at large, while police have visited neither her home nor that of the SUV’s owner.

Tomas Beecher (Courtesy of Helen Beecher)
Tomas Beecher (Courtesy of Helen Beecher)

Tomas Beecher, 30, was walking his bicycle across Monivong near the intersection of Street 278 in Chamkar Mon district’s Boeng Keng Kang I commune at about 1:30 a.m. on September 28 when he was struck by the Range Rover and killed instantly.

The suspected driver, Sila Ratanak, 20, fled the scene.

The Irishman had been in the process of renovating the Golden Mekong Hotel in Daun Penh district, which closed down about six months ago.

On Thursday, the Irish Embassy in Vietnam sent a consular official to Phnom Penh to meet with the deputy prosecutor in charge of the case to ensure that the investigation was progressing.

“All I can say is that we’re following the investigation,” Chiara Popplewell, the embassy official, said after the meeting at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court. “I have met with the police and the prosecutor.”

Deputy prosecutor Meas Chanpiseth said police contacted him immediately after the accident and that he ordered them to track down the driver.

“I told them to find [Ms. Ratanak],” he said. “I am not sure if they have done so. How can I know?”

Mr. Chanpiseth, who received an investigation report from police on Tuesday, added that he has issued a summons for Ms. Ratanak to appear in court for questioning on October 16.

“I cannot force her to come,” he said. “If she does not show, an investigating judge can issue an arrest warrant.”

Sem Kunthea, the deputy municipal traffic police chief in charge of the case, initially said he would not wait for an arrest warrant to track down Ms. Ratanak. But this week, as new details emerged, he refused to answer questions about the investigation.

Mr. Kunthea initially identified Ms. Ratanak’s father, Hou Sila, as the deputy chief of the tourism police in Preah Vihear province and the owner of the SUV.

In fact, Hou Sila is a major in the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) and the head of the finance office for the RCAF’s submilitary region in Preah Vihear province, according to deputy provincial RCAF commander Meas Yoeun.

The Range Rover that struck Tomas Beecher, which is being kept at the municipal traffic police headquarters, does not belong to Maj. Sila, but to 20-year-old Hang Linda, a friend of Ms. Ratanak’s, according to Ms. Linda’s older sister Keo Srey.

Their father, Hang Chivon, is the tourism police official in Preah Vihear , according to Ms. Srey.

“The police have not come to my home yet,” Ms. Srey told reporters on Tuesday at the house she and her sister share in Meanchey district’s Stung Meanchey commune.

“That SUV belongs to my younger sister, but it was not my younger sister who drove it [during the hit and run],” Ms. Srey said.

“My younger sister’s friend drove it,” she said, referring to Ms. Ratanak.

Ms. Srey said that on the night of the accident, her younger sister had been at a nightclub for a birthday party with Ms. Ratanak and left the keys to her new Range Rover on a table. Ms. Ratanak grabbed the keys and took the SUV for a drive, she said.

Ms. Linda could not be reached.

A woman who answered the door at Maj. Sila’s home in Russei Keo district’s Chraing Chamreh I commune Tuesday refused to identify herself, but said Ms. Ratanak sometimes stays there, and claimed she was not home at the time.

“[Gen. Sila] has many homes,” the woman said. “[Ms. Ratanak] stays here sometimes.”

The woman said police had not visited the house and declined to answer further questions.

Contacted by telephone, Maj. Sila hung up on a reporter.

Mr. Kunthea, contacted Thursday, declined to give an update on the case and referred questions to court officials.

Deputy prosecutor Meas Chanpiseth confirmed that police only interviewed two individuals as part of their investigation into the hit and run—a friend of Ms. Ratanak who had been driving a motorbike behind the SUV when it broadsided Tomas Beecher, and Maj. Sila, who contacted police of his own volition.

Mr. Chanpiseth added that he has also summoned two friends of Ms. Ratanak who were at the birthday party, but declined to provide their names.

Helen Beecher, the older sister of Tomas Beecher, said by telephone from Ireland that her family was coordinating with the Irish Embassy in Hanoi to repatriate her brother’s body.

“We just want to get our brother home,” she said. “We miss him so much.”

“He was just trying to start a business in Cambodia.”

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