Drunk driver who died insisted on taking over from valet

Mr Fabian Ong (right) was killed when his car hit a kerb, overturned and skidded along Bukit Timah Road.
Mr Fabian Ong (right) was killed when his car hit a kerb, overturned and skidded along Bukit Timah Road.PHOTOS: THE NEW PAPER/COURTESY OF MR TOH HO ANN

This story was first published in The New Paper on Jan 16, 2016

SINGAPORE (THE NEW PAPER) - With a blood alcohol level two-and-a-half times above the legal driving limit, Mr Fabian Ong was in no condition to drive.

His friends thought so as well and one hired a valet to take him home.

But Mr Ong wanted to have it his way and he took over the wheel from the valet halfway into the journey, despite his friend begging him for more than 10 minutes not to drive.

He paid for it with his life because minutes later, his car hit a kerb, overturned and skidded, causing him to suffer a horrific death.

On Thursday, a Coroner's Inquiry was held into the death of the 21-year-old on July 18 last year while driving his mother's silver Mercedes-Benz.

Mr Ong, a KTV lounge manager, had taken his mother home in the car. He then went to meet some friends at Boutique, a bar in Orchard Plaza.

According to a manager The New Paper spoke to, the bar has since rebranded itself and moved to a unit one storey below.

One of Mr Ong's friends, Miss Lee Wen Xin, told investigators Mr Ong had drunk a lot of alcohol.

They left the bar at about 5.45am.

Miss Lee hired designated driver Ian Liew. He was to drive Mr Ong and Miss Lee in the Mercedes-Benz to Mr Ong's home in Bukit Batok.

Along the way, the fuel gauge showed that the car's petrol tank was almost empty, so Mr Ong told Mr Liew to drive to a Shell petrol kiosk at 143, Bukit Timah Road, to top up.

After paying for petrol, Mr Ong walked back to the car and gestured to Mr Liew to get out of the driver's seat, indicating that he wanted to take over the wheel. It is unclear why he decided to drive.

Closed-circuit television footage from the petrol station, which was screened in court, showed Miss Lee arguing with Mr Ong for more than 10 minutes, trying to dissuade him from driving.

Both were gesturing aggressively and after a while, Mr Liew got out of the driver's seat and stood outside the car, next to a petrol pump.

In desperation, Miss Lee even stood between Mr Ong and the driver's seat.

Mr Liew could be seen verbally protesting, but he did not physically restrain Mr Ong. He appeared unwilling to enter into any altercation with Mr Ong, said the police investigation report.

Mr Ong said he would pay Mr Liew $40 for his services.

He pushed Miss Lee aside, got behind the wheel and drove off, leaving the petrol station.

But 4km later, the car crashed outside Coronation Plaza in Bukit Timah Road.


A scene of the accident's aftermath. PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

While going up a slope after an underpass, Mr Ong is believed to have lost control of the car, which hit a left kerb, overturned and landed on its roof.

Tyre and skid marks measuring nearly 200m long were found at the scene.

Mr Ong suffered multiple injuries, including open skull fractures, open injuries exposing his collarbone, and cuts and bruises on his upper body, back and forearm.

The investigation report said that Mr Ong was found partially protruding from the passenger side of the car, an indication that he was not wearing his seat belt.

During the autopsy, he was found to have a blood alcohol content of 291mg per 100ml of blood - about two-and-a-half times above the legal driving limit of 80mg per 100ml of blood.

High speed

State coroner Marvin Bay noted in his report: "While the actual speed at the point of the collision cannot be estimated, the long brake and tyre marks point to Mr Ong negotiating the turn at a very high speed."

Mr Bay added that Mr Ong had a previous speeding offence from 2013. He had driven on the Kranji Expressway at between 111 and 120kmh - well above the speed limit of 90kmh.

He also said that Mr Ong could have avoided more serious injury if he had worn his seat belt the day he died.

Another significant factor was Mr Ong insisting that he drive and even pushing Miss Lee aside, said Mr Bay.

The coroner said: "Sadly, it was for these errors in judgment that Mr Ong paid the ultimate price.

"His demise is a sobering reminder of the dire consequences that ensue from a failure to observe basic safety precautions of wearing a seat belt at all times and to avoid driving after consuming alcohol."


Mum told him not to drive

His mother said Mr Fabian Ong had a girlfriend and just before his death, they had argued over his drinking. Mr Ong promised her that he would stop.


Mr Ong's mother, Ms Ong Li Li, leaving the courts. PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

In the early hours of July 18 last year, Mr Ong drove his mother home to Bukit Batok from their workplace in Bendemeer and drove out again.

Around dawn, Ms Ong Li Li called her son when she realised he wasn't home.

The 50-year-old said: "When he picked up, he told me he was coming home. I knew he wasn't sober because he was slurring a bit, so I told him not to drive."

Mr Ong crashed his car at about 6.10am and was pronounced dead at 7am.

Five months on, the single mother of two boys is still grieving over the death of her older child whom she described as a responsible son who helped out in the family business.

Family

Speaking with The New Paper on Thursday, she said she divorced her sons' father, Mr Toh Ho Ann, more than 10 years ago and got custody of the boys. Mr Toh, a commercial diver, was also at the inquiry.

"After the divorce, there were difficult times," she said in Mandarin, adding that Mr Ong used to get fevers almost every month.


Mr Ong's father, Mr Toh Ho Ann, leaving the courts. PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

"It was only about a month before he died that I found some Chinese medicine which helped improve his condition."

After he completed national service, Mr Ong went on to help out with the family business.

Ms Ong runs a KTV bar in Bendemeer and her son was the bar manager.

"Because we are in the business of running a pub, we know how people can be like when they get drunk," she said.

"So I've always told him it is okay to drink but not so much that he'd cause a nuisance.

"He was business-minded because he knew he had a stake in it and if the business does well, it is good for our family.

"I was just thinking of buying him a newer model (of her car) but this happened.

"I doted on him. He was obedient.