Master Sergeant jailed for rash act to endanger life over fatal jeep incident

SINGAPORE - A Master Sergeant who ordered a full-time national serviceman (NSF) to drive a jeep when he had no valid licence was jailed a total of six months on Wednesday for the rash act and attempting to pervert the course of justice.

The incident on the night of May 10, 2012 during a training exercise in Marsiling resulted in the death of an NSF and injuries to two others. The three were in a jeep driven by then NSF Cavin Tan, who had been sentenced to a 10-day short detention order, which is intended to be less disruptive and stigmatising than jail.

Mr Tan's superior, Lee Kong Kean, 33, then a senior specialist instructor, had admitted to the two charges.

A day after the incident, he told a group of instructors, including Mr Tan, of his intention to lie to investigators that Mr Tan had stolen the jeep involved in the accident, which resulted in the death of NSF Tan Mou Sheng, 20.

Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Tang Shangjun said Lee has a Class 3 military driving licence and was fully aware of the requirements needed to obtain the licence.

As the conducting officer of the exercise, he had a duty to ensure that safety procedures and training protocol were strictly adhered to, he said.

But he went ahead to assign Mr Cavin Tan, now 23, as the jeep driver, even though he knew that the NSF did not have a valid licence, and had not been trained to drive a jeep.

Mr Tan lost control of his jeep on a downward slope. The jeep tilted, rotated around and overturned several times before landing on its side.

Two NSFs - Dickson Hong and Ow Yong Wei Long - were thrown out and injured while Mou Sheng was pinned under the jeep. He died from severe pelvic injuries the next day.

Mr Tang argued that there were multiple aggravating factors which justified a long prison sentence. He said Lee had abused his authority and showed no remorse, and the reputation of the Singapore Armed Forces had been tarnished because of this incident.

Lee's lawyer Mr Sunil Sudheesan and Ms Diana Ngiam said their client had made a mistake and was remorseful.

"He was in a state of panic and he said what he said, but he did not persist," said Mr Sunil. He also told the court that his client, who has been suspended, served in the army for about 11 years without any incident until May 10, 2012.

District Judge Shaiffudin Saruwan said one single tragic accident like the case could damage the reputation of the SAF. He said such transgressions had to be dealt with severely.

Lee could have been jailed up to six months and/or fined up to $2,500 for acting so rashly as to endanger life. For attempting to pervert the course of justice, the maximum penalty is 3 1/2 years and a fine.