Police Witness Denies Seeing Official’s Crash

Kien Svay district, Kandal province – The only named witness to a fatal traffic accident last month involving a top Tourism Ministry official denied on Thursday that he ever gave the statement that police used to absolve the official of guilt, claiming he did not even see the crash.

Nuon Someth, an undersecretary of state at the Tourism Ministry, was detained by police in Kandal province on April 12 after the SUV he was driving toward Phnom Penh on National Road 1 crashed into a motorbike. The man driving the motorbike, Mith Sothea, 38, died at the scene, and his wife, Khorn Yeth, 32, was seriously injured and sent to the hospital.

A Toyota SUV belonging to Nuon Someth, an undersecretary of state at the Tourism Ministry, lies on its side after crashing into a motorbike in Kandal province on April 12, killing the motorbike's driver, in a photograph taken by a local reporter.
A Toyota SUV belonging to Nuon Someth, an undersecretary of state at the Tourism Ministry, lies on its side after crashing into a motorbike in Kandal province on April 12, killing the motorbike’s driver, in a photograph taken by a local reporter.

Contacted a week after the accident, Kandal Provincial Court prosecutor Lim Sokuntha said he ordered police to release Mr. Someth the evening of the crash for three reasons: because Mr. Someth had asked, because he had agreed to pay the victims’ families a total of $5,500 and because of the police account of what happened.

According to deputy Kien Svay district police chief Prum Samnang, two witnesses said a truck heading away from Phnom Penh was straddling the middle of the road when it clipped Mr. Someth’s SUV on the front left corner and punctured the SUV’s front left tire, sending it veering into the oncoming lane, where it collided with the motorbike.

The day after authorities gave their account, however, three people who claimed to have seen the crash all told The Cambodia Daily that they did not see a truck hit the SUV. They all said the SUV was driving in the oncoming lane and hit the motorbike head-on.

The three spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.

At his office on Thursday, Mr. Samnang said he and his officers actually spoke with three witnesses on the day of the crash, not two as he had said before. But two of the three, he said, refused to give their names because they did not want the court to call them in for questioning.

“There were many witnesses, but they did not want to talk,” he said.

The one witness who did give his name, he said, was Tat Saing.

Mr. Saing, however, told reporters on Thursday that he did not even see the crash and that he told the police as much. Running a small motorbike repair shop along National Road 1, a few meters away from where the crash occurred, he said he was at the shop that day but was not facing the road when it happened.

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

He said he saw a white truck driving away from the scene once the crash was over, but had heard the sound of only one impact, not two. He said he told the police that he did not see the crash and made no mention of the truck to them whatsoever.

After being informed of Mr. Saing’s account of events, Mr. Samnang, the deputy district police chief, stood by his story.

“I don’t know why [Mr. Saing] said like that,” he said. “He told police that the truck hit Nuon Someth’s car and drove quickly away.”

Hang Phannara, the district’s traffic police chief, said he was at the scene of the crash within about half an hour. He said the three witnesses the reporter spoke with probably claimed that the SUV was not hit by a truck because they were not looking when it happened.

“The witnesses you interviewed didn’t see the first crash. They only saw Nuon Someth’s car hit the motorbike,” he said. “Those witnesses were not focused on the accident. They just saw Nuon Someth’s car crash with the motorbike, so they just said like that.”

One of the three witnesses who spoke with a reporter also claimed to have overheard one of the passengers who emerged from the SUV, which had rolled onto its side after hitting the motorbike, scold Mr. Someth for driving while drunk.

However, the traffic police chief said he concluded that Mr. Someth was not drunk because he did not show any visible signs of intoxication and had no detectable smell of alcohol on his breath. He said his district’s breathalyzer had been out of service for the past few months and so could not be used on Mr. Someth.

Mr. Someth could not be reached for comment on Thursday. His assistant at the Tourism Ministry said that her boss had not been to work since the accident.

The case remains in the hands of the provincial court. Mr. Sokuntha, the prosecutor, said he had not yet begun to investigate it, but would assign one of his deputies to do so soon.

“I have not appointed a deputy prosecutor to this case because I am busy with other work and I just got back from abroad last week,” he said. “I will appoint a deputy prosecutor to this case next week. We will investigate to find justice for both sides.”

Sarom Sokha, Mith Sothea’s nephew, said his uncle’s wife, Khorn Yeth, had since died of her injuries while at Phnom Penh’s Calmette Hospital.

“She died at the hospital on April 29 in the afternoon,” he said. “I don’t know the reasons why she died because the doctor did not tell us.”

A few days before Khorn Yeth died, doctors caring for her said she had suffered multiple fractures to her legs and a heavy blow to the back of the head from the crash. Khorn Yeth was unable to move her body or her head at the time, but told reporters that she did not see what preceded the crash because she was not looking ahead when it happened.

Khorn Yeth’s older brother, Khorn Samay, said the hospital stay had cost $4,000.

“It is injustice, but we can’t complain because we received the payment already, so it depends on the police and the court,” he said. “We are very shocked about their deaths.”

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