SINGAPORE — A Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) regular officer was found guilty on Monday (22 November) of failing to ensure a safety distance between the Land Rover he was in and an armoured vehicle that reversed into it, causing the death of a full-time national serviceman (NSF).
Captain Ong Lin Jie, 30, was the vehicle commander of a Land Rover driven by Corporal First Class Liu Kai during a simulation exercise on 3 November 2018.
The Land Rover was trailing a Bionix, a heavy armoured vehicle armed with either cannons or auto grenade launchers and heavy machine guns.
But Ong ordered Liu to overtake it when it was unsafe to do so, and without first communicating with the Bionix. During his trial, Ong said he had observed the situation and deemed it safe for the Land Rover to overtake the Bionix.
Liu then stopped some 16 to 18m behind the Bionix upon hearing gunshots.
At the time, there was a risk that the Bionix would open fire and execute an extrication drill by reversing. The reversing Bionix then mounted the driver’s side of the Land Rover, killing Liu.
Delivering the verdict on Monday, District Judge Jasvender Kaur said the collision was the "natural consequence" of the lack of safe distance for the Bionix to execute its extrication manoeuvre, which was caused by the Land Rover’s failure to adhere to the required 30 meter safety distance and its failure to communicate its intention to overtake when it was unsafe to do so.
"The duty of ensuring the safety distance and to communicate was the responsibility of the accused," said DJ Kaur
The judge considered what Ong had said when first asked to give his account of the incident, in investigations that spanned over more than five months. During this period, Ong had failed to voluntarily disclose that he had ordered the overtaking of the Bionix.
DJ Kaur also noted that when questioned on why the Land Rover had moved forward, Ong suppressed the fact that he had ordered the overtaking. When later confronted with evidence, Ong had "selective amnesia".
The judge added that from the facts of the case, Ong "ought to have known of the obvious risk that (the Bionix) had sighted an enemy vehicle and may move or reverse as part of a combat drill."
"Therefore, the only conclusion is that the accused was conscious of the safety risks by overtaking without establishing communication. He may have chosen to ignore the risks but this indifference to the risks would constitute rashness," she added.
Sentencing has been adjourned to 20 December. For a rash act, Ong can be jailed up to five years, or fined, or both.
Ong, who held the appointment of platoon trainer, was part of the group of trainers from the Armour Unit Training Centre (AUTC) tasked to observe and provide feedback to participants during a simulated fire fighting exercise at the Tracked Vehicle Manoeuvre Area near Sungei Gedong Camp. The exercise was to be held over three days from 2 November 2018
The exercise involved the Kaffir company deploying 11 Bionix infantry fighting vehicles against a platoon from the Jaguar Company as the opposition forces, which deployed three Bionix vehicles.
CPT Ong was assigned the Land Rover so that he could move around the area to oversee the opposition force's manoeuvres.
Ong's trial began in March this year. At its closing, the prosecution argued, "Captain Ong should not have ordered Liu Kai to overtake BX13 (Bionix). He was aware of the risk that BX13 may move or reverse as part of a combat drill, as he had seen and heard of certain developments on the ground that would have informed of BX13’s impending movement. Worse of all, Captain Ong was unable to see what was ahead of BX13. Yet, Captain Ong did not establish communications with the commander of BX13 to ascertain why it had stopped in the first place, or its next intended course of action."
On Ong's case, the Ministry of Defence said, "The Singapore Armed Forces (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."
Ong remains suspended from the SAF.