Ministry of Justice spokesman Chin Malin said the compensation paid over injuries caused by the driver of a luxury car who crashed into a motorcycle carrying three people, which resulted in serious injuries including to a two-month-old infant, would not exempt him from possible legal prosecution.
Malin was responding to the public reaction on social media over speculations that the $2,500 the driver's family reportedly paid to the victims had effectively closed the case or prevented criminal charges over it.
The accident happened at 2am earlier this month on the bridge connecting to the Chroy Changvar peninsular in the capital’s Chroy Changvar district. A young man was reportedly driving while intoxicated and hit a motorcycle from behind while going at high speed.
The three people on the motorcycle – its driver, a mother and her infant – were reportedly sent sprawling over a distance of about 100m and were all seriously injured.
The motorcycle driver, Hong Ratha, 33, was taken to Cambodia-China Friendship Hospital and was in serious but stable condition. The mother, Much Srey Leak, 31, was admitted to Ponleu Clinic while her son, who suffered the worst injuries, is being treated at Kantha Bopha Children's Hospital.
The driver of the car, who was uninjured, was identified as Som Nori Tikha, 19, and a resident of Chroy Changvar commune and district.
Phorn Phalla, director of the Branch Centre orphanage, knows the mother and infant and has provided them with assistance accessing healthcare in the past.
"The baby's condition is very serious as he also suffered injuries to his head and the medical team has little hope that he will recover. He is comatose and on life support with oxygen and feeding tubes," Phalla said.
Phalla said that while the three victims were receiving treatment, he received information that the driver's relatives had come forward to mediate with the victims and were offering $2,500 in compensation.
He said he was in contact with a volunteer lawyer from the legal aid organisation run by Cambodia's bar association and sponsored by Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has agreed to represent all three victims and is preparing a complaint to submit to the court.
He said the family of the driver found Srey Leak at Ponleu Clinic and negotiated compensation, but she rejected their offers. But Srey Leak’s mother, fearing that her daughter would have medical bills they were unable to pay, accepted $2,500 from them.
"After the decision was made by Srey Leak’s mother but not Srey Leak herself as the victim, the mediators brought her the agreement document to get her thumbprint, which she gave because she thought it was a document to commence a lawsuit in court, not one that would end the case," he said.
Malin told The Post that if a person causes a traffic accident leading to serious injuries or the loss of life, they are subject to prosecution and punishment under the law no matter what amount they might pay to their victims otherwise.
"I urge the victims to continue cooperating with the legal proceedings, as it is a matter of principle that – if someone has caused injuries or endangered lives – paying compensation just to resolve the civil damages for their actions doesn’t end their prosecution for the crimes they have committed," he said.
Recently, justice minister Koeut Rith warned that committing traffic offences that cause serious harm or the deaths of others is a grave crime and those found guilty must be held accountable before the law with no exceptions.
Chroy Changvar district police chief Leak Chan Reapsa told The Post on December 6 that after the accident took place, the driver was immediately arrested and sent to the Phnom Penh Municipal Police on December 5 to continue with legal procedures.
Officers who examined the scene determined that the cause of the accident was due to the driver of the car speeding, and after testing he was found to be driving under the influence with a blood-alcohol content of 0.53 mg/l.
"Despite the compensation paid to resolve the civil damages, the case is still pending in court with a criminal complaint. Police investigators are building a case file on the incident and plan to forward it to the municipal court for further legal proceedings," according to a statement by the Municipal Police Department.