TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The driver of a truck, an undocumented worker from Vietnam, and five others were charged with negligent homicide Friday (April 16) for the deaths of 49 people in the April 2 Hualien train derailment.
Lee Yi-hsiang (李義祥) is believed to be the chief suspect responsible for a truck at a construction site rolling down a slope to land on the train tracks a short time before the Taroko Express train traveling from New Taipei City to Taitung was to pass by.
The train was unable to stop on time, leading to the deaths of 49 people, including the conductor, his deputy, and three foreign nationals, with more than 200 people injured. Two weeks of investigations led Hualien prosecutors to uncover a number of illegalities, Liberty Times reported.
On April 2 at 9:14 a.m. Lee and an undocumented Vietnamese worker known as Hua Wen-hao (華文好) drove a truck on the construction site above the railway tracks and got stuck on a bend. At 9:23 a.m., Lee allegedly fastened a cable to the truck and asked Hua to drive a crane to try and pull the truck away, prosecutors said.
However, the cable was not strong enough and broke at around 9:26 a.m., and camera footage ended a minute later. The truck then rolled down the slope, and the train crashed into the vehicle at 9:28 a.m.
Prosecutors said a similar incident had occurred on Jan. 23, when a cement mixing truck was caught in the trees at the same bend. A Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA) official recorded the incident and told two supervisors to improve the situation, but no action was taken, according to prosecutors.
The two men also failed to inform the authorities the construction project had incurred delays. This led them to be charged with forgery as well as negligent homicide on Friday.
Prosecutors demanded the maximum sentence of five years for negligent homicide, and for Lee, seven years for leaving the scene without informing the police. Meanwhile, Hua could receive at least three years, CNA reported.
Potential irregularities with the business practices surrounding the TRA project Lee was working on are still being investigated. Daqingshui Tunnel, where the crash happened, will be reopened for trains on April 19.