Inquiry into Alexandra Canal accident

Victims tried to escape from car in water

Both woman and daughter were free of their seat belts, which had been originally engaged

A woman and her daughter who drowned after their car plunged into Alexandra Canal seemed to have tried to escape from the vehicle, said State Coroner Marvin Bay yesterday, delivering his findings on an inquiry into their deaths.

When divers found Madam Yep Lay Choo, 51, and Ms Kimberly Poon, 22, trapped in a silver Mercedes-Benz on Jan 24, both were free of their seat belts, which had been originally engaged.

While Madam Yep was at the rear of the overturned car where the last pockets of air would have been, Ms Poon was between the front seats and could have been weakened due to a more severe neck injury.

"It is also very possible that Madam Yep had remained in the car to help her daughter," said Coroner Bay, who called the incident "a truly tragic misadventure".

There is no basis to suspect foul play, and reports did not find abnormalities with the car, he said.

Madam Yep, known to her husband Robin Poon, 50, as a good driver, had made "a belated attempt to correct her course" that night. She took a leftward swerve before hitting the canal railing .

Closed-circuit TV camera footage appeared to show that the car began accelerating before the exit of Valley Point Shopping Centre's basement carpark.

Madam Yep did not brake going over the final hump towards the road, and instead of turning right, the car shot straight ahead, running through planted bushes. She covered 14.6m in three seconds before the fall, moving at some 35kmh.

She then swerved left before hitting the canal railing at 9.01pm.

The angle of the vehicle's fall was "especially steep" due to the concurrent effect of swerving, braking and impact with the green railing, said forensic pathologist Paul Chui, who had studied the scene.

The sharp drop on a concave space would have made the car fall at an angle that caused it to flip over upon hitting the water.

This put the trapped pair in a "particularly dire situation", as rescue is more straightforward when the car falls in a less steep course and is submerged upright, said Coroner Bay.

The descent will be more gradual, and its windows may continue working, allowing escape.

But if immersed in the water for a long time, the electrical system becomes inoperable, he added.

Both women had survived the crash and seemed to have tried to escape from inside the car, the court heard. But it is likely they were "severely disoriented" as the airbags had been engaged.

While it is possible to open the doors of a fully submerged car, this requires "considerable strength and knowledge", said Coroner Bay. A trained Singapore Civil Defence Force diver tried twice before successfully doing so that night.

It was an incident likely caused by "a moment of inattention or distraction" by Madam Yep, he added. It underscores "the need for motorists navigating less familiar carparks to proceed at a cautious speed" that allows reaction time to avoid humps, or other unexpected features.

Yesterday, Madam Yep's mother, Madam Teo Bee Eng, told The Straits Times she regrets not being with her daughter that day. "I still feel guilty over this," she said.

The retiree, who is in her 70s, was supposed to join Madam Yep, Mr Poon and her only granddaughter, who often went out on Sundays.

She said the rest of her family continues to do so, and she thinks of the pair during their outings. When she sees other families with daughters, she added with tears in her eyes, she especially misses her own. "I should have gone before her," she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 12, 2016, with the headline 'Victims tried to escape from car in water'. Print Edition | Subscribe