TAIPEI - A Taiwanese truck driver was sentenced to nearly eight years in jail on Friday for causing the island’s worst rail disaster in decades, one which left 49 dead and more than 200 injured.
The April 2, 2021 crash was caused by a railway maintenance truck that slid down an embankment moments before a packed train hurdled through the eastern coastal city of Hualien.
The vehicle had been stuck in bushes on a nearby road.
Prosecutors said truck driver Li Yi-hsiang, 50, and his assistant tried to free it with a cloth strap tied to an excavator, but the attempt failed and the vehicle tumbled onto the railway track.
Li’s actions “resulted in heavy casualties and seriously affected social order while causing physical and emotional trauma to many victims”, the Hualien District Court said in a statement as Li was jailed for negligent homicide.
His assistant, a Vietnamese national, was acquitted by the court, which cited insufficient evidence for his participation in “the core act” of the accident, which was to tie the truck with the cloth strap that could not sustain the weight.
Li did not contact rail authorities or alert the train conductor after the truck slipped onto the track, and then failed to call the police or the 911 emergency service after the crash, according to prosecutors.
A lawyer for the victims’ families vowed to appeal the ruling because they felt the sentence was too short, the Central News Agency reported.
Li was part of a contracted railway maintenance team that regularly inspects Taiwan’s mountainous eastern train line for landslides and other hazards.
He was working on shoring up a steep hillside at the accident scene.
The last major train derailment in Taiwan before this incident was in 2018, when 18 people died on the same line. The train driver in that case was sentenced in 2021 to four-and-a-half years in prison for negligent homicide for speeding and other faults.
Taiwan’s most deadly rail disaster on record was in 1948, when a train caught fire and 64 people perished. AFP