Platform helps accident victims find witness' footage

Mr Gary Leong's desire to connect accident victims to people who witnessed the traffic accident spurred him to create online portal FindWitness. ST PHOTO: SONG TAO

SINGAPORE - Mr Gary Leong was nine years old when his then 15-year-old sister became wheelchair-bound for a year after a hit-and-run accident.

Desperate to find and take the culprit to task, he and his mother spent hours handing out flyers at the accident scene and even offered a cash reward to coax witnesses to come forward to give information.

But nobody did.

Mr Leong, 29, told The Straits Times: "At the time, I thought, if only there was a platform on the Internet to make our lives easier; to be more efficient and cost-effective, and also reach out to more people."

His desire to connect accident victims to people who witnessed the traffic accident spurred him to create an online portal. After two years of development, he launched FindWitness in February this year.

He said it has since matched more than 100 victims in Singapore to witnesses.

"We want to let accident victims know that FindWitness is a post-accident hub. We also work with a panel of lawyers who provide free legal consultation to the victims," he said.

Mr Leong has a handful of workers and more than 100 volunteers, including staff from charities and law firms, helping him.

Since the launch, he said about 1,000 videos and photos have been posted on FindWitness. PHOTO: SCREENGRABBED FROM FINDWITNESS.COM.SG

Accident victims and witnesses have to register on the website, where they key in details of the accident, such as the date, time and location. Witnesses then submit their videos or photos to the website.

Since the launch, he said about 1,000 videos and photos have been posted on FindWitness.

Witnesses can choose to provide the videos and photos under "public content" - where the evidence will be posted on FindWitness' Facebook page - or "private content", meaning the evidence is exclusively for FindWitness.

For public content, they can be paid between $150and $350, depending on the number of views received in three days.

In the case of private content, accident details will be run through the website's program, which searches for a match. If the evidence is matched to an accident victim, witnesses can earn around $500 to $2,500 for uploading the evidence.

Mr Leong works with a panel of more than 10 lawyers, to determine how useful the evidence is. FindWitness then determines the value of the evidence, which victims will pay to get access.

The portal takes a 10 per cent commission from what the victims pay.

"The amount the victims pay, they can be compensated through their accident claims in the legal proceedings, and it can help their case," said Mr Leong.

"Our team will run the accident details through our database and see if there's a match. Once we determine there is a match, we'll call the victim to view the evidence. If they think the evidence is useful, and they're willing to pay, they will get the evidence."

"Sometimes, our staff will also call victims for more information to ensure a higher possibility of a match, and also track down witnesses on social media."

He said he hands over evidence to the police when they ask for it.

Criminal lawyer Rajan Supramaniam, managing director of Hilborne Law, said the evidence of videos or photographs submitted by witnesses "could be questionable in relation to admissibility".

"Because when there's an accident and traffic police or police photographer is on site, their evidence will be given weightage and credibility. But when it's footage taken by a third party, it may not necessarily tell the full story."

But Mr Leong said the evidence provided to FindWitness has helped. He cited a case in which a motorcyclist was knocked down by a car being driven too close to him.

"The rider didn't know what happened because the impact was from the back, and when he woke up, he was already in the hospital with no recollection," he said.

"A witness sent dashboard camera footage of the accident to us and our system alerted us that there was a match."

He said the car driver had alleged during court proceedings that the motorcyclist had cut into his lane, but with evidence from FindWitness, the victim won the case.

FindWitness aims to reach out to taxi drivers and construction workers as well.

It works with groups that support foreign workers like Singapore Accident Help Centre (SGAHC), and conducts workshops and events to educate them about the online platform.

"This platform is able to help victims find footage of workplace accidents to help their cases, and for witness to upload them to earn another source of income."

Witnesses can opt to donate their cash reward to SGAHC, a non-profit organisation that provides legal advice to accident victims.

The next step is the launch of the FindWitness mobile app, which will be available on Apple and Android by end- August.

Mr Leong said he is aware that some people may take issue that payment is involved in connecting accident victims and witnesses.

He, however, stressed that it is not about profit, but to keep FindWitness running, he said, adding that it is a registered business.

"It is my full-time job and I have staff to pay as well," he said.

"FindWitness is a company with a social aim, where we want people to step forward and ensure the truth come to light."

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