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Official’s car in fatal accident

A 20-year-old woman was killed and her husband badly injured in a hit-and-run with the car of prominent ruling party lawmaker Cheam Yeap in Kandal province’s Kien Svay district on Friday, police said yesterday.

According to Kien Svay district police chief Pa Sa Ith, victim Phin Sophea died after arriving at Phnom Penh’s Calmette Hospital, while her husband, Pheoun Tha, 31, also known as Meoun Sokha, is still recovering there.

Yeap maintained yesterday that he was asleep at the time of the accident – as a passenger – and had only left the scene out of fear of mob reprisals. Sa Ith was unsure whether criminal charges would be filed against Yeap’s driver.

“It is still quiet so far, because the victim has not yet come to file a complaint, but local police have filed a complaint to Kandal provincial police, therefore the complaint is out of my jurisdiction,” he said.

Kandal provincial police chief Eav Chamroeun said his office was still investigating, but the motorbike carrying Sophea and Tha seemed to be at fault, and Sophea – who was in control at the time – was an inexperienced rider.

“I would like to confirm that the husband admitted that he allowed his wife to drive, and was overtaking a remorque [motorbike-pulled trailer] and a car from behind,” he said.

The collision, he added, occurred while the motorbike was still in the oncoming lane of traffic.

Yeap yesterday objected to the characterisation of the accident as a hit-and-run, saying that his lawyer had gone there shortly after the accident to speak to police.

“My lawyer took responsibility immediately after the accident occurred,” he said. “I was not hit-and-running, but I was running because of my personal safety. For example, in the past, my cousin was in a crash and he was beaten to death by a mob.”

Yeap, who declined to give the name of his driver, said his lawyer, the victims and police would meet today to work out a final compromise.

“We were not in the wrong, as the police and the victim told us, and we subsequently supported the victim and the problem is to be resolved,” Yeap said. “Moreover, the victim and their relative admitted that they were at fault, and they were grateful for my support.”

Kar Savuth, a lawyer at the National Assembly who is representing Yeap, confirmed that he had already consulted with the family and given money for hospital bills.

Cambodian Defenders Project executive director Sok Sam Oeun, who is not involved in the case, said Yeap bore no legal responsibility for his driver’s actions, and that the driver was not liable as long as he had been in compliance with traffic laws.

“Hit-and-run can be a crime, and [if] somebody [is] killed, it is a crime,” he said. “But the one element is that the accused must abuse the traffic law. It means that they violate a traffic rule, and they cause, because of that, the accident.”

Victim Pheoun Tha declined to comment yesterday, but his mother, Suong Kru, 54, said they would not be filing a complaint.

“I don’t know who they are, but they supported me well for hospital fees, and they came and visited me at the hospital,” she said. “We were wrong ourselves, and I am not going to complain against them.”

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY STUART WHITE

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