Driver fleeing accident scene when he crashed

Death toll from crash near Chiang Mai now at 14, say reports; driver in critical condition

The bus accident near Chiang Mai that killed more than a dozen Malaysian tourists on Sunday was probably caused by the hasty driver who was trying to flee his vehicle's earlier collision with a truck, media reports say. The bus crashed off a winding mountain road into a ravine.

 Some local media reports yesterday said the death toll from the crash on Sunday near the popular tourist town of Chiang Mai had risen to 14. The driver, Mr Somphorn Bualuang, 58, was reportedly in critical condition.

The accident was a particularly grim reminder of Thailand's road accident fatality rate - the second highest in the world behind Namibia, according to a February 2014 study by the University of Michigan.

 A family of six were among the 33 tourists on the bus, the Malaysian daily The Star reported. Four of them died, including an 85-year-old, the oldest member of the tour group.

 Madam Low Chee Lan was on holiday with her second son, Mr Tan Yang Soon, 64, and her youngest daughter Tan Sui Heng's family when the chartered bus crashed into another vehicle, hit a power pole and plunged into the ravine off Highway 118.

Mr Tan survived the incident but his eldest daughter, Ms Tan Thin Thin, 39, was not as lucky. His sister, Sui Heng, and her husband, Mr Ker Boon Kwang, 57, were among the dead but their daughter, Ms Ker Shin Hui, 28, escaped with injuries.

 Bernama quoted the Malaysian Ambassador to Thailand, Dato' Nazirah Hussain, as saying the remains of the 13 Malaysians killed were at Maharaj Nakorn Chiang Mai Hospital, in Chiang Mai.

 Nine others injured were in various hospitals, she said. "One of the seriously injured underwent (an) operation. The identity will be disclosed later,'' she said in a statement.

Ms Nazirah said the victims' next-of-kin had been informed and were on their way to Chiang Mai.

With 44 road deaths per 100,000 people, Thailand just trails Namibia's 45 deaths per 100,000 people, the University of Michigan study showed.  The World Health Organisation in 2012 had estimated Thailand's road accident fatality rate at 36.2 per 100,000.

 Bus accidents are frequent. In March last year, a bus crash on a mountain road in northern Thailand killed 30 people.  Just over 70 per cent of total fatalities, however, are people on two- or three-wheelers, including motorbikes and tuk tuks.

 Local media said the bend on Highway 118, where the driver lost control on Sunday and careened off the road, has a dark name: "100 corpses curve." The highway at this point snakes down forested hillsides.

 Fatalities in Thailand rise during festive periods, as drunk driving becomes rife. A total of 341 people were killed and 3,117 others injured in the seven days from Dec 30 last year to Jan 5 this year.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 22, 2015, with the headline 'Driver fleeing accident scene when he crashed'. Print Edition | Subscribe