West Coast death

'Significant force' caused neck fracture

Pathologist Lee (left) took the stand on the fourth day of the trial of businessman Mark Tan (above), who is accused of causing his father's death by putting him in a headlock.
Pathologist Lee (above) took the stand on the fourth day of the trial of businessman Mark Tan, who is accused of causing his father's death by putting him in a headlock.ST PHOTOS: WONG KWAI CHOW
Pathologist Lee (left) took the stand on the fourth day of the trial of businessman Mark Tan (above), who is accused of causing his father's death by putting him in a headlock.
Pathologist Lee took the stand on the fourth day of the trial of businessman Mark Tan (above), who is accused of causing his father's death by putting him in a headlock.ST PHOTOS: WONG KWAI CHOW

Pathologist makes point in disagreeing the elderly have more-brittle bones

A 67-year-old man who died after being allegedly put in a headlock by his son had suffered a fracture in his neck that was likely caused by a "significant amount of force", a court heard yesterday.

Health Sciences Authority forensic pathologist Lee Chin Thye, who performed an autopsy on Mr Tan Kok Keng, made the point yesterday as he disagreed that the elderly tend to have more-brittle bones.

He also said the cartilage of older people may be calcified - or hardened due to calcium salts - and this could make the cartilage stronger.

Dr Lee was taking the stand on the fourth day of the trial of businessman Mark Tan Peng Liat, 30, who has been charged with culpable homicide not amounting to murder. He was said to have put his father in a headlock and chokehold in their West Coast Rise home following a quarrel on Feb 10 last year.

The older man was found motionless in the second-floor master bedroom and was pronounced dead after he was sent to hospital that day.

The Straits Times understands that Tan's position is that his father's death was accidental, and that he was trying to restrain his father who had become violent.

The autopsy found that Mr Tan had 31 external injuries, including bruises on his neck and limbs, and internal injuries, such as a fracture to his thyroid cartilage and a haemorrhage near his right jaw.

The primary cause of death was believed to be a "manual compression of the neck", said Dr Lee.

Mr Tan also had hypertensive heart disease, which was likely a contributory factor that hastened his death.

Dr Lee, who was cross-examined by lawyer Derek Kang on the possible causes of Mr Tan's injuries and death, disagreed that seniors tend to have more brittle bones, meaning that less pressure is needed to cause a fracture. He also rejected the notion that Mr Tan could have died due to sudden heart failure because of his heart disease, even if no force was applied to his neck.

Mr Tan may have had the disease which could lead to heart failure or sudden death in a resting state, said Dr Lee, but "heart failure was not something (he) observed" in him.

When asked by Mr Kang, Dr Lee said Mr Tan could have got the fracture in his neck from a "single blow" rather than a sustained period of pressure - if this were considered in isolation of all other injuries.

He believes that Mr Tan's injuries, which were on various parts of the body, were suffered over a "considerable amount of time".

If convicted, Tan may be jailed for up to 10 years, fined or caned. His trial continues today.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 12, 2016, with the headline ''Significant force' caused neck fracture'. Print Edition | Subscribe