Aloysius Pang's death: Two SAF servicemen fined after pleading guilty in military court

Corporal First Class (NS) Aloysius Pang, died on Jan 23, after he was seriously injured while in the Singapore Self-Propelled Howitzer during a live-firing exercise in New Zealand.
Corporal First Class (NS) Aloysius Pang, died on Jan 23, after he was seriously injured while in the Singapore Self-Propelled Howitzer during a live-firing exercise in New Zealand.PHOTO: ALOYSIUS PANG/INSTAGRAM
A cameraman waits outside the SAF Court Martial Centre at Kranji Camp II, on Nov 19, 2019.
A cameraman waits outside the SAF Court Martial Centre at Kranji Camp II, on Nov 19, 2019.ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH
A car believed to be ferrying one of the accused in the Aloysius Pang trial moving out of the SAF Court Martial Centre at Kranji Camp II on Nov 19, 2019.
A car believed to be ferrying one of the accused in the Aloysius Pang trial moving out of the SAF Court Martial Centre at Kranji Camp II on Nov 19, 2019.ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

SINGAPORE - Two soldiers were sentenced for their roles in the incident leading to the death of actor Aloysius Pang after they pleaded guilty in a military court on Tuesday (Nov 19).

The two men were in the cabin of a Howitzer artillery gun with Corporal First Class (NS) Pang at the time.

The military court heard that Military Expert 2 (ME2) Ivan Teo Gee Siang, 35, and Third Sergeant (NS) Hubert Wah Yun Teng, 31, failed to ensure CFC Pang was in a safe position during the movement of the Howitzer's gun barrel.

CFC Pang was seriously injured in the incident and later died.

Wah was fined $8,000, and if he does not pay, he will be detained for 40 days. The judge also agreed that he be demoted from Third Sergeant to Corporal.

Teo was fined $7,000, and if he does not pay, he will be detained for 35 days.

On Tuesday, the two men, wearing their army uniforms, had their charges read to them at the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Court Martial Centre at Kranji Camp II.


Third Sergeant (NS) Hubert Wah Yun Teng, 31.

Teo, a regular technician, and Wah, a gun commander, did not display any emotion when their charges were read.

Teo faced three charges: one charge of disobedience of general orders under the SAF Act, and two charges of negligent act endangering life under the SAF Act.

For disobedience of general orders, he could have been jailed up to two years or fined up to $5,000. For the negligent act, he could have been jailed up to three years or fined up to $5,000 per charge.

Wah faced two charges: one charge of causing death by negligent act under the Penal Code, and one charge of negligent act endangering life under the SAF Act.

For the offence under the Penal Code, he could have been jailed for up to two years or fined up to $5,000. For the offence under the SAF Act, he could have been jailed up to three years or fined up to $5,000.

Teo faced the disobedience of general orders charge for starting maintenance works on a part of the Howitzer gun when the gun barrel was not in a “standby” position and with the Howitzer’s master switch still on.

This contravened standard operating procedures. These procedures are “a lawful provision of a general order which he was reasonably expected to know”, said court documents.

He faced one negligent act charge for failing to alert Wah that CFC Pang was in the path of the moving gun barrel, and for failing to ensure that CFC Pang moved to a safe position when it was lowered.

Teo’s other charge was for failing to activate the emergency stop button before the barrel’s rear hit CFC Pang.

As for Wah, he faced a charge under the Penal Code, as he had “caused the death of (CFC Pang) by doing a negligent act not amounting to culpable homicide” as he failed to ensure CFC Pang was not in the path of the gun barrel before he lowered it.

His SAF Act charge was for failing to activate the emergency stop button before the gun barrel hit CFC Pang.

CFC Pang, an armament technician from the 268th Battalion Singapore Artillery, died on Jan 23, four days after he was seriously injured while in the Singapore Self-Propelled Howitzer during a live-firing exercise in New Zealand.

The 28-year-old operationally-ready national serviceman was injured when he was caught between the back of the gun barrel and the interior of the Howitzer cabin, when the barrel was lowered. The lowering of the barrel caused its rear end to rise up and eventually hit him.

Because the accident happened during a live-firing exercise overseas, the Singapore police did not have jurisdiction to conduct investigations into his death.

Investigations were conducted by the SAF's Special Investigation Branch, and the Chief Military Prosecutor decided to prosecute the two SAF servicemen based on the findings of the investigation branch.

Tuesday's court martial panel comprised the judge, Lieutenant-Colonel (NS) Shawn Ho Hsi Ming, and panel members Major Quak Lin Hian and Major Ong Zi Jun.

Acting for the prosecution was Chief Military Prosecutor Teoh Ai Lin, who is the Ministry of Defence's director of legal services.

WHAT THE JUDGE SAID

In delivering his grounds of decision, LTC (NS) Ho noted that Teo had a clean service record, and Wah had an “almost unblemished” service record, and these were given due weight during sentencing.

The judge also considered that for Wah, his lawyer sought an aggregate fine, and the prosecution asked for a total fine of $8,000, and for his rank to be demoted to corporal.

Wah was eventually fined $8,000, which consisted of $5,000 for the Penal Code charge and $3,000 for the SAF Act charge.

For Teo, his counsel sought a total fine of $5,000, while the prosecution asked for $7,000.

Teo was fined $7,000, which comprised $3,000 each for his two negligent act charges and $1,000 for the disobedience of general orders charge.

LTC (NS) Ho added that Wah was the more culpable of the two, and this was reflected in the respective sentences.

“Given that 3SG (NS) Wah was the junior commander, the fact that he activated the switch for the (the rear end of the Howitzer gun barrel), and one of the charges he faced was (under) the Penal Code, we are of the view that 3SG (NS) Hubert Wah’s culpability is higher than ME2 Ivan Teo,” he said.

“This is a sad case with the loss of a life. It is a grim reminder that training safety is of first importance.”

Quoting the the prosecution’s written submissions for Wah’s sentencing, the judge added: “We fully agree that the standard of care required of an (operationally-ready national serviceman) or (full-time national servicemen) whilst operating dangerous SAF equipment and machinery, is the same as that required of regular SAF officers... (Otherwise, we place) at risk the safety of every serviceman.”

The court heard that Teo will pay $3,000 on Tuesday, and the rest of his fine by monthly instalments of $1,000 a month deducted from his salary. Wah will pay his fine in full by Friday.

MITIGATION

Defence counsel Adrian Wee, who represented Wah, said in mitigation that it has been a difficult and traumatic period for his client.

He noted that the family of CFC Pang has reached out to the SAF to ask for leniency to be exercised in the sentencing of the two servicemen involved.

“My client is grateful and humbled by this gesture from the family of the deceased,” said Mr Wee, who is director at law firm Characterist.

He said that while Wah had panicked and failed to press the emergency stop button, he had tried to do so through electronic controls.

“He was not simply sitting idle, and was still trying to stop (the barrel) in a way that he knew, even though it was not the proper way,” said Mr Wee.

In response, Chief Military Prosecutor Teoh said that Wah had received a brief from Teo about the repair, but not how the gun barrel should be operated, which was Wah’s decision.

Wah had committed an “unforced error”, and his culpability was significant, she said.

In Wah’s written mitigation plea, his lawyer also said that the serviceman, an art director in an international branding agency, has an excellent service record.

Still, he had no more than three weeks of training a year. Wah did not recall getting refresher training in the use of the Howitzer’s emergency stop button during his in-camp training.

Teo had told Wah to activate the button when the gun barrel’s rear end moved up towards CFC Pang.

The lawyer said that Wah, who married in late December 2018 and cut short his honeymoon for the overseas training later in January, was also operating complicated military equipment.

The serviceman also believed CFC Pang was aware of the gun’s movement and was confident he would be able to move away in time.

The lawyer added that while Wah was a commander, he was taking instructions from Teo, “who was both vastly more experienced and an SAF regular”.

In Teo’s mitigation, Mr Anand Nalachandran, director of TSMP Law Corporation, said that while training should increase the chances of responding well in an emergency, there are times when a person’s response can only be tested in a real emergency.

He said it was unfortunate that his client, Teo, did not react well to the situation caused by the lowering of the barrel, but it should not be an aggravating factor, as he was not being reckless.

Ms Teoh said in response that as the more senior person, Teo was expected to uphold safety rules, and that troops are reminded that safety should not be compromised.

The incident

During the Howitzer incident on Jan 19, CFC Pang and Teo did maintenance work on the artillery gun. At some point, the gun’s barrel was raised and was in a “high angle” position.

Later, CFC Pang, Teo and Wah were in the Howitzer cabin. CFC Pang stood next to Teo with his back towards the gun barrel’s rear end.

Teo told CFC Pang to move closer or away from him, as Wah was about to lower the gun’s barrel to a “standby” position. This would cause the barrel's rear end to move upwards.

CFC Pang told Teo in Mandarin “never mind, it won’t hit me”, or words to that effect.

Wah shouted a command to alert Teo and CFC Pang that he was about to move the barrel’s position.

Although Wah saw that CFC Pang was not in a safe position inside the cabin, he still activated the switch to move the barrel.

When the barrel's rear end moved upwards towards him, CFC Pang tried to move his upper body to avoid getting hit.

Teo tried to push the barrel’s rear down with his hands to stop it. He shouted at Wah to hit an emergency stop button, which would immediately cut off the power supply moving the barrel.

But Wah did not, as he panicked. Instead, he tried using the Howitzer’s main control screen to stop the barrel’s movement. Teo had also panicked and did not press the emergency stop button close to him.

Six seconds later, the barrel’s rear hit CFC Pang’s lower back and lifted him off the ground and pinned him against the interior of the Howitzer.

He was eventually freed after another soldier intervened.