Death of teenager who fell at Orchard Central was a tragic misadventure: Coroner

According to an eyewitness, the teenager fell after he climbed over the railing onto a ledge, which gave way. PHOTO: ST READER

SINGAPORE - The teenager who fell to his death from the fourth-storey linkway of Orchard Central shopping mall in February had a history of performing daring stunts, a court heard on Thursday (July 27).

An inquiry into the death of Jonathan Chow Hua Guang, 17, revealed that prior to his fatal fall, he had once jumped off the second storey of a building with his friend, known only as Ruth.

Their friends said that they had watched a video of the pair performing the stunt together.

The investigation officer (IO), Staff Sergeant Lim Wei, told State Coroner Marvin Bay that Ruth was with Jonathan when he made the fatal leap on Feb 24.

Staff Sgt Lim also said that according to Ruth, she had once jumped out of a window of her third-storey flat onto the ground below after her father forbade her to meet her friends.

He added that the pair were close friends but there was no evidence they were in a relationship.

The court heard there was also no evidence that Jonathan, who was about to be enlisted for national service, was into parkour - an activity in which practitioners try to get from one point to another in the fastest way by jumping, climbing and vaulting.

However, the 1.74m tall teenager, who weighed 79kg, was an ardent skateboarder and enjoyed performing stunts.

He had met Ruth via Instagram and they regularly sent text messages to each other.

Staff Sgt Lim said they were in a bus on their way to Sentosa on Feb 24 when Jonathan wanted to use the toilet. They alighted near Orchard Central and made their way to the mall.

The IO said that according to Ruth, they were on the walkway when Jonathan suggested that they jump onto a nearby ledge. She was then supposed to record a video of the stunt with her mobile phone.

A closed-circuit television footage which was played in court showed the pair putting down their bags before he vaulted over a 1.2m high barrier.

Jonathan landed on the ledge, which was perpendicular to the walkway, but the platform he was on gave way and he plummeted 18m to the ground.

Staff Sgt Lim said the platform was made of calcium silicate board and was not meant to support any weight.

Jonathan Chow Hua Guang was an ardent skateboarder and enjoyed performing stunts. PHOTOS: FACEBOOK/JONATHAN CHOW, ST FILE

Jonathan was rushed to Tan Tock Seng Hospital where he was found to be suffering from head injuries. He later died in hospital.

Delivering his findings on Thursday afternoon, Coroner Bay said Jonathan's death was a tragic misadventure.

He said Jonathan was known to be a keen skateboarder and a daring person, adding: "(A friend) recalled (Jonathan's) skateboard stunts to include skating down several flights of stairs to the ground floor.

"She had also seen (him) execute a skateboard jump over a stationary railing to the ground."

Jonathan's father, mechanical engineer Matthew Chow, 55, was in court on Thursday and he told reporters that "time will heal".

He added: "We are all very sad and miss him. I hope this incident will have a higher purpose. Hopefully, public spaces will be more safe for everyone."

Mr Chow had earlier called for more safety measures at the walkway.

The Straits Times reported in March that according to experts, Orchard Central's owner Far East Organisation had complied with safety standards and building codes.

Still, some said extra precautions may be helpful.

Witnesses had reportedly seen the 17-year-old vaulting over the railing on what seemed like a solid ledge (above), but was actually a decorative plasterboard casing not meant to bear loads. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

Associate Professor Chui Yoon Ping, head of the human factors in safety programme at SIM University, had then said that a "false perception" might be created when the structure in question, which was long, solid and wide, looked like a concrete structure that could bear weight.

"Say if it was thinner or slanted at an angle, or narrower, or looked flimsy - someone would think twice before standing on it or jumping on it," she said.

However, architect Zahidi Abdul Rahman felt that extra safety measures such as warning signs would be superfluous.

"The barrier is more than sufficient to tell people that this is something they should not cross over. Accidents are unfortunate, but common sense should prevail, and we should not over-regulate," he said.

The Building and Construction Authority had said that building features such as ledges that are not load-bearing and made of lightweight material are not considered structural elements, and are therefore not regulated.

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