Two fined over church lift incident which killed woman and injured another

Seow Tiong Bin (left), 60, a designer and consultant of Access Safety Technology, and parish priest Tan Kong Eng, 61, commonly referred to as Father Peter Tan, pleaded guilty on Tuesday to three and two charges respectively. -- ST PHOTOS: ONG WE
Seow Tiong Bin (left), 60, a designer and consultant of Access Safety Technology, and parish priest Tan Kong Eng, 61, commonly referred to as Father Peter Tan, pleaded guilty on Tuesday to three and two charges respectively. -- ST PHOTOS: ONG WEE JIN

SINGAPORE - Two men were fined a total of $17,000 on Thursday over a malfunctioned lift at the Church of St Michael two years ago which killed one woman and seriously injured another.

Seow Tiong Bin, 60, a designer and consultant of Access Safety Technology, and parish priest Tan Kong Eng, 61, commonly referred to as Father Peter Tan, pleaded guilty on Tuesday to three and two charges respectively.

They admitted to committing a negligent act to endanger the personal safety of others at the church in St Michael's Road, resulting in the lift being unsafe to use.

On May 16, 2012, Filipino maid Clarita Cerraon Abanes, 46, was able to open the unlocked first floor lift door, when the lift car was on the second floor.

When she stepped into the lift shaft with Madam Rose Tay Kim Le, 82, the lift car descended slowly on them and pressed them down.

Both women were trapped under the lift car for an hour before they were extricated by civil defence officers.

Ms Abanes, who was working for a couple, died eight days later from lack of oxygen to her brain and chest injuries. Madam Tay survived but now cannot walk without assistance, the court heard.

Seow, described as the "directing mind and will of Access", a company which builds, designs and overhaul gondolas, carried out major repair works on the lift between 2009 and 2010 when he was not qualified and the company was not a lift contractor. He had engaged an unlicensed electrician to rewire the lift and safety interlocks.

The lift had been installed by Aspire Elevator Company, which took over SAGAX Engineering that had been among three companies that sent in written quotations to the church. Neither SAGAX nor Aspire was a lift contractor nor were they licensed.

District Judge Victor Yeo said among other things that while he agreed with Seow's lawyer that the original design of the lift was flawed and the lift became operational after lift modification works by Access in 2010, the fact remained that the platform lift was unsafe to use and exposed users to crushing hazard.

"This court also could not ignore the severe consequences that resulted from this tragic incident where one life was lost and where another person suffered serious injuries,'' he said.

He also noted that since 2008, the lift had never been maintained or inspected as required under the regulations.

There was no maintenance carried out on the lift for 26 months after the modifications and until the date of the incident.

The judge said Tan, who chairs the finance committee of the church, ought to have exercised greater vigilance in seeking the advice and services of qualified professionals such as architects and engineers to carry out alternation and additional works, given his earlier experience with Aspire.

He fined Seow, who has two unrelated convictions, a total of $12,500, and Tan, $4,500.

The maximum penalty for negligence to endanger the personal safety of others is two years' jail and a $5,000 fine on each charge.