NSF killed in Bionix case: SAF officer guilty of causing death by a rash act

Ong Lin Jie was found to have acted rashly by failing to keep a safe distance from the Bionix and ordering CFC Liu Kai to overtake it. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

SINGAPORE - A Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) captain linked to an incident where a Bionix infantry fighting vehicle reversed and mounted a Land Rover, killing the driver, was on Monday (Nov 22) found guilty of causing death by a rash act by District Judge Jasvender Kaur.

Corporal First Class (CFC) Liu Kai, a 22-year-old full-time national serviceman (NSF) who was driving the Land Rover, was pinned under the Bionix vehicle and pronounced dead at the scene.

Ong Lin Jie, now 30, was also in the Land Rover when the tragedy took place during an exercise by the 42nd Battalion Singapore Armoured Regiment on Nov 3, 2018.

He was found to have acted rashly by failing to keep a safe distance of 30m between the Land Rover and the Bionix and ordering CFC Liu to overtake it.

Judge Kaur said on Monday that Ong's actions were "the substantial or the proximate and efficient cause" of CFC Liu's death.

She noted that for a period of slightly more than five months after the tragedy, Ong did not voluntarily disclose during investigations that he had ordered the Land Rover to overtake the Bionix, adding: "When confronted with incontrovertible evidence, he had selective amnesia."

Judge Kaur also said: "I find his selective amnesia was deliberate."

Ong, who was a platoon trainer with the Armour Unit Training Centre at the Armour Training Institute at the time, had given the order for the Land Rover to move forward even though it was unsafe to do so and without first establishing communication with the other vehicle.

In their submissions earlier this year, Deputy Public Prosecutors Hay Hung Chun, Zhou Yihong, Angela Ang and Benedict Chan said: "As the vehicle commander of the Land Rover, (Ong) was responsible for its safety, which included ensuring that the Land Rover maintained a safety distance of 30m from other vehicles... throughout the exercise."

The court heard that during the exercise, a Bionix with call sign BX13 had stopped just before a T-junction.

The Land Rover Ong and CFC Liu were in stopped about 30m behind it. The prosecutors said Ong did not know why BX13 had stopped and ordered CFC Liu to overtake it on its left.

The DPPs said: "Prior to giving this order, (Ong) did not establish any communications with BX13. Liu Kai drove the Land Rover forward, thereby bringing it less than 30m away from BX13.

"BX13 fired three rounds (and) Liu Kai stopped the Land Rover."

At this point, the Land Rover was about 16m to 18m behind BX13, which started to reverse as part of the combat drill.

It mounted the driver side of the Land Rover, pinning CFC Liu in his seat.

Corporal First Class Liu Kai died on Nov 3, 2018, after a Bionix armoured vehicle reversed into a Land Rover he was driving. PHOTO: MINDEF

The prosecutors argued that Ong had acted rashly by ordering CFC Liu to overtake BX13 without establishing communications with BX13.

They also told Judge Kaur that Ong's act of ordering the overtake resulted in CFC Liu's death, as it placed the Land Rover less than 30m away from BX13 and resulted in the collision with the Land Rover.

The court heard that the 30m safety distance rule was "one key safety tenet" taught to all commanders within the armour formation, including Ong, and would be re-emphasised during safety briefings prior to all armour exercises.

SPH Brightcove Video
Emergency horn buttons allowing the crew to alert the driver of any obstacles have been installed in all Bionix vehicles used for training since November 2018. A rear-view camera system will be installed in March.

The prosecutors stressed that the purpose of maintaining this safety distance is to ensure that all parties have sufficient reaction time to avoid any potential collisions.

They said: "By ordering Liu Kai to overtake BX13... (Ong) had placed the Land Rover in the path of the BX13's reverse manoeuvre, resulting in the collision that led to Liu Kai's untimely death."

They added that the tragedy meant "Liu Kai never had the opportunity to complete his national service obligations, unlike his fellow national servicemen".

Ong, represented by lawyer Teo Choo Kee, had testified during the trial in June that he did not expect BX13 to move backwards.

Ong, who has since been suspended from service, told Judge Kaur that he had thought that the Bionix had identified a friendly vehicle in front of it prior to the incident, based on an exchange through radio communications between the Bionix commander and another soldier.

He said he wanted to get into a position where he could observe the Bionix without being caught in the middle of any firefight that might take place, and directed CFC Liu to overtake the Bionix.

When the armoured vehicle started to reverse, he shouted for it to stop and saw that its rear guide was also shouting.

Ong had said: "But the Bionix did not stop and the accident happened."

He will be sentenced on Dec 20.

For causing death by committing a rash act, an offender can be jailed for up to five years and fined.

In a statement to The Straits Times on Monday, the Ministry of Defence said: "The (SAF) has reminded commanders that they are held accountable for the safety of personnel under their charge and must adhere to training safety regulations.

"Those who are negligent or breach training safety regulations may face prosecution under the law or the SAF's disciplinary framework."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.