Taiwanese prosecutors have wrapped up their investigation into a fire aboard a tour coach that killed all 26 people on board, confirming earlier reports that the driver was suicidal and took his own life before starting the blaze.
The two-month inquiry focused on the driver, Su Ming-cheng, as the main suspect, and no charges would be laid, officials from the Taoyuan prosecutors’ office were quoted as saying yesterday by the
China News Agency. Su appeared to be going through a difficult emotional time, with a sexual assault trial looming and problems at home. He had told an acquaintance he feared he would be jailed for five years, and the combined pressure might have pushed him to take his life, they said.
Su was driving the bus full of mainland tourists as well as a local guide to the Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport on July 19 when he started the fire near his seat, according to witnesses. Flames engulfed the vehicle as it barrelled down the highway for another 1.4km before crashing into a guard rail on the highway.
A preliminary investigation found five containers – including two near the driver’s seat – contained petrol. Su was later found to have bought them on the fourth day of the eight-day trip.
The 24 tourists, all from Liaoning province, and the guide died. The bus had eight emergency exits, two of which were inaccessible because they were near the driver where the fire started. The other six had been deliberately blocked, and witnesses described passengers frantically trying to open them as the flames grew.
Su had consumed a large amount of alcohol that day and seemed to be intoxicated when he got behind the wheel, witnesses who saw him earlier said.
Families of all but one of the victims have accepted compensation from insurance companies, with each family eligible to claim NT$6.64 million (HK$1.6 million). But if the incident is found to have been caused by human error, the families could seek additional claims, according to the transport ministry.
The killings have added to Taiwan’s tourist woes. CNA reported on Friday that the number of mainland tour groups from Zhejiang, Jiangsu and Shanghai, areas where interest in visiting Taiwan is usually high, could drop by half in the week-long holiday starting October 1, which is National Day on the mainland.