Man in plaid shirt saved my life, says bus helper

By WALTER SIM and YEO SAM JO

AMID the hurling of stones and slurs, one man was spotted on camera trying to fend off two rioters who were attacking a bus during Sunday night’s Little India fracas. 

But that was not his only act of courage on that horrific night, it has emerged.

The man, whose image has been making the rounds online, also pulled to safety a hapless woman caught in the first moments of the violence. 

“If it were not for him, I would have been beaten to death,” a teary-eyed Madam Wong Geck Woon told The Straits Times yesterday.

The 38-year-old was on her shift that evening as a timekeeper for the buses that ferry foreign workers back to their dormitories.

At around 9pm, she told Mr Sakthivel Kumaravelu, 33, an Indian national construction worker, to get off a shuttle bus as it was already full. He staggered off the bus, but not before pulling down his trousers.

Moments after the bus moved off and made a left turn into Race Course Road, he was found pinned under one of its rear wheels. 

Madam Wong rushed to check what had happened to him, and that was when it turned ugly. 

A sea of onlookers near the bus surged forward at the crushing sound of the accident. Within minutes, they began pelting stones, beer bottles and sticks at the vehicle’s windscreen, according to Madam Wong.

The unknown Samaritan, who was wearing a plaid shirt, rushed from the crowd, shoved her up the steps of the bus and told the driver to lock the vehicle.

By then, she had already been hit by glass shards and stones, leaving her with a bruised left eye and a cut on her forehead. She also fractured her right hand trying to deflect the rocks raining on her, and had cuts on her hands and legs from flying glass shards.

Still, her injuries were minor, she said. She is on five days of medical leave.

“I cannot find this man yet. I wish to locate him so that I can personally thank him,” she said.

The rampaging mob would eventually swell to 400 that night, as police and Special Operations Command troops in riot gear sought to disperse them and arrest the perpetrators.

Yesterday, 24 Indian nationals were charged in court for rioting. They will be remanded for further investigations for a week.

To date, police have interviewed 3,700 foreign workers and taken statements from 176 of them. Eight more suspects were nabbed yesterday.

As a timekeeper with the Singapore School Transport Association, Madam Wong, a Singapore permanent resident from Malaysia, was in charge of keeping track of bus arrival and departure times.

The association handles transport arrangements for foreign workers to and from their dorms.

Contrary to previous reports, she said she was never on the BT&Tan bus driven by 55-year-old Mr Lim, nicknamed Ah Huat, before the attack.

The mother of one is still in disbelief over the incident, saying that she has known Mr Lim to be a “very good” driver.

When The Straits Times visited her Potong Pasir home yesterday, she was at first hesitant to open the door, citing her injuries and previous media reports where photographs snapped without her consent were used.

Madam Wong recounted how her four-year-old daughter cried upon seeing her when she returned home from Tan Tock Seng Hospital, where she was sent after the incident.

“I had to slowly explain what happened to her,” she said. “But because she’s so young, I told her it was an accident.”

Madam Wong is now unsure if she wishes to continue in her job. But one thing is clear. She said: “No matter what, I will not want to work in that area ever again.”

The identity of the man who saved her remains unknown, but she believes he is a Bangladeshi. The video of him in his plaid shirt waving off the rioters has gone viral.

Eyewitnesses say there were others in the unfolding violence of the night who tried to help.

In another video posted on social media yesterday, a group of foreign workers is seen opening the doors of an ambulance, and helping several police officers and paramedics escape from the mob.

Mr Yeo Guat Kwang, chairman of the Migrant Workers’ Centre and MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC, has said: “We should not allow the ill-placed actions of a few to taint the majority of migrant workers in Singapore who are law-abiding. They are here to make an honest living and contribute positively to our country.”

This was a point emphasised by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his statement on Monday. He wrote: “The vast majority of foreign workers in Singapore are law-abiding workers. They contribute to our economy working hard to earn a living and support their families back home.”

PM Lee added that this “isolated incident” should not be allowed to “tarnish our views of the foreign worker community here”.

waltsim@sph.com.sg

yeosamjo@sph.com.sg

The Straits Times would like to help Madam Wong meet her hero. If you know of his whereabouts or any other civilian heroes of the riot, call us on 6319-6397 or e-mail us at stnewsdesk@sph.com.sg