Alexandra Canal deaths: Mother and daughter attempted to escape from car, correct its course

Three tow trucks hoist the car which crashed into the Alexandra Canal on Jan 25, 2016.
Three tow trucks hoist the car which crashed into the Alexandra Canal on Jan 25, 2016. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - A woman and and her daughter who drowned after their car plunged into the Alexandra Canal seemed to have tried to escape from the vehicle, said State Coroner Marvin Bay on Monday (July 11), delivering his findings on an inquiry into their deaths.

When divers found Madam Yep Lay Choo, 51, and Ms Kimberly Poon, 22, trapped in a silver Mercedes Benz on Jan 24, both were free of their seat belts, which had originally been engaged.

While Madam Yep was at the rear of the overturned car where the last pockets of air would have been, Ms Poon was between the front seats and could have been weakened due to a more severe neck injury.

"It is also very possible that Madam Yep had remained in the car to help her daughter," said Coroner Bay, who called the incident "a truly tragic misadventure".

 
 
 

There is no basis to suspect foul play, and reports did not find abnormalities with the car, he said.

Madam Yep had made "a belated attempt to correct her course" that night. She swerved before hitting the railing at the canal but it was "too little and too late".

Closed-circuit camera footage showed that the car began accelerating before the exit of Valley Point Shopping Centre's basement carpark.

Madam Yep did not brake going over the final hump towards the road, and instead of turning right, the car shot straight ahead, running through planted bushes. She covered 14.6m in three seconds before the fall, moving at 35kmh.

She then swerved left before hitting the canal railing at 9.01pm.

The angle of the vehicle's fall was "especially steep" due to the concurrent effect of swerving, braking and impact with the green railing, said Forensic Pathologist, Dr Paul Chui, who had studied the scene.

The sharp drop on a concave space would have made the car fall at an angle that caused it to flip over upon hitting the water.

This placed the trapped pair in a "particularly dire situation", as rescue is more straightforward when the car falls in a less steep course and is submerged upright, said Coroner Bay.

Besides a more gradual descent, its windows may continue working and allow escape. But if immersed in the water for a long time, the electrical system becomes inoperable, he added.

It was an incident likely caused by "a moment of inattention or distraction" by Madam Yep, he added.

He said it underscores "the need for motorists navigating less familiar carparks to proceed at a cautious speed" that allows reaction time to avoid humps, or other unexpected features. This is especially so when going from a carpark to an open road.