The parents of three schoolchildren killed in a hit and run accident in Preah Vihear province last week, which involved Choam Ksan district Forestry Administration chief Kim Chet Thavy, rejected compensation of $4,000 per family offered by the authorities on behalf of the suspect on Thursday.
Chet Thavy reportedly fled the scene after killing three eighth-graders when he crashed his car into a motorbike on June 22.
The victims, who were riding the motorbike, were identified as Chamroeun Narong, 17, from Teuk Krahom commune, Keo Bunchea, 16, who lived in Choam Ksan commune, and Bunly Kalak, 15, from Kantuot commune. The three were allegedly not wearing helmets at the time of the accident.
In written complaints lodged with the district police chief on June 24 and forwarded to the provincial court on Wednesday, Keo Sokhon, 54, Bunchea’s father, said his family initially demanded $40,000 in compensation, while the other two families had asked for $20,000 each.
The Choam Ksan district authorities gathered all parents to discuss compensation in Chet Thavy’s absence, he said on Thursday.
They asked each family to accept $4,000 in compensation, but the parents immediately turned down the authorities’ request. Instead, the former demanded that the suspect come forward to negotiate with them directly.
Sokhon said Chet Thavy’s younger brother had met his family during his son’s memorial service on Sunday and contributed $500 towards each victim’s funeral. He also offered $1,500 in compensation for each family, Sokhon added.
“Chet Thavit’s sibling came to negotiate and he admitted that this brother had made a mistake, that’s why he offered $1,500.
“But we said the amount was unacceptable because we thought our sons had not been in the wrong. If the driver had been more careful when making a turn, they [the victims] would not have died,” Sokhon said.
Sokhon alleged that Chet Thavy had been under the influence of alcohol when he was driving to a karaoke parlour.
He said, without turning the signal light on, the suspect made a turn abruptly and crashed into the motorbike that the three victims were travelling on in the same direction.
“Between cars and motorbikes, the latter must be prioritised on the roads. The driver was drunk as he was heading to sing at the KTV,” Sokhon claimed, adding that the victims died instantly after the collision.
Keo Sovanara, 48, the father of Kalak, stressed that the families could not accept the $4,000 compensation. He said his son’s funeral alone had cost him up to $3,000.
However, Sovanara said he was willing to lower his demand as written on the complaint letter if Chet Thavy comes forward to negotiate directly with the victim’s families.
“We demanded $20,000 in compensation because we believe our son did not make any mistake. The car was travelling in the wrong direction. According to the Traffic Law, a demand that is too high is not appropriate, and if it is too low, it is impossible,” he said.
Sovanara expressed his regret that his son did not wear a helmet when he was riding a motorbike with two other people. In his defence, he said his family did not own a motorbike and that his son usually rode a bicycle to school.
Choam Ksan district traffic office chief Chem Methea said the victims might have still been alive if they had worn helmets, without providing further details regarding the accident.
“We have striven to raise people’s awareness of traffic regulations, but as we all know, many people still disrespect the law. The victims’ parents cannot be arrested or held accountable,” Methea said.
Methea said last week that the driver of the car was to blame because, before turning left, he should have waited for any vehicles driving in the opposite direction.
Chum Kaniya, the spokesperson for Preah Vihear provincial court, confirmed that his team had received the complaints from the victims’ families. “Let me see the complaints first before proceeding,” Kaniya said.
Chet Thavy could not be reached for comments. But provincial Agriculture Department chief Ping Trida said briefly on Thursday that the suspect had “taken a break from work for some time”.
“He asked for a little break,” Trida said.
Lor Chan, the Preah Vihear provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said on Thursday that in the case of a criminal offence committed by a government official which sees other people killed, the offender ought to face legal measures accordingly and has no right to negotiate.
“They [the authorities] are players of the state. They could not make a deal on criminal cases. If it was a civil case, they would have the right to do so. But in criminal cases, no one has the right to make a compromise . . . only legal action is to be imposed,” Chan said.
A district deputy police chief previously said that prior to the accident, the victims had just left a school exercise period, and were going to the market to buy sports gear.
On their way home from the market, they were hit by Chet Thavy’s Ford Ranger, which had turned left carelessly without checking if the road was clear.
An expert who inspected the crime scene said Chet Thavy was suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol.