HUALIEN - The main suspect in Taiwan’s deadliest train accident has maintained his innocence to reporters after being released on NT$500,000 (S$23,570) bail, as rescuers discovered another dead passenger in the wreckage.
The Hualien District Prosecutors Office announced on Saturday (April 3) that it was seeking to detain Mr Lee Yi-hsiang, the main suspect in Friday’s accident that has so far taken 51 lives and injured at least 188 people. More than 40 passengers remain hospitalised, with at least two in intensive care.
But the judge overseeing the prosecution’s case ruled it unnecessary to detain Mr Lee, a decision that Hualien’s head prosecutor, Ms Yu Hsiu-duan, said the prosecution will be appealing.
“We have been ready to appeal because the prosecution thinks (Mr Lee) should be detained… it’s hard to say if he might try to escape once he is released, so we are doing our best to prevent that,” said Ms Yu.
Mr Lee had driven to a construction site he oversaw on Friday morning, located just above the entrance of the Daqingshui tunnel in Hualien County. After parking his truck on a sloped trail, he left the vehicle to inspect the construction work.
In less than half an hour, the truck had slipped down the trail onto the train track, where the Taroko Express crashed into it and derailed.
The authorities investigating the accident suspect that Mr Lee had either forgotten to apply the truck’s handbrake or the brake had malfunctioned, but it could take at least three months to complete the investigation.
Mr Lee left the Hualien District Court with a friend who bailed him out, covering his head with a bag and avoiding the media, who followed the car that dropped him off at his home.
Mr Lee hopped over a low wall around his residence, and before disappearing indoors, told the media that he “had applied the handbrake”.
Earlier Saturday, the Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA) held its second press conference on the crash. There were no surveillance cameras at or near the construction site, Deputy Transportation Minister Wang Kwo-tsai told reporters at the event.
“A Hualien-bound Tze-chiang Express passed through the tunnel at 9.13am, so we believe the truck had slipped down from (its parked spot) between 9.13am and 9.28am,” said Mr Wang.
The 408 Taroko Express crashed at 9.28am.
President Tsai Ing-wen, who visited survivors in hospital on Saturday, thanked businesses, non-government groups and ordinary folk for contributing to the rescue, which “displayed the kind side of the Taiwanese society”.
China’s state news agency Xinhua reported that Chinese President Xi Jinping had expressed his condolences over the tragedy.
Given the high death toll and the fact that some passengers’ bodies were not recovered in one piece, the Taiwanese authorities are calling Friday’s crash Taiwan’s worst railway accident on record.
Train accidents in Taiwan in 1981 and 1991 had each left 30 people dead.
The TRA is working to dislodge the crumpled train carriages that are still stuck in the tunnel.
“I think the driver (of the truck) is the one with the most responsibility,” Mr Liu Chang-ching told The Straits Times. Mr Liu lost his son Liu Yi-chen, 23, in Friday’s crash.
He suspected that his son was one of the passengers who had purchased a standing ticket, but was not able to confirm this.
“This could also be a reason why (he died),” said the Taitung native, whose wife and daughter beckoned him away from the media as they waited in a tent set up in front of the Hualien Funeral Home.
The TRA said on Friday that it will be seeking compensation from Mr Lee’s construction company, something that netizens have ridiculed as impossible after many of them found photos of the company’s run-down-looking office online.