Sat, Sep 20, 2014 - Page 8 News List


Oliver Chen’s fatal ride

It was with great sadness that I read of Oliver Chen’s (陳瑞光) death this week (“Leading Sunflower movement member dies in accident,” Sept. 18, page 3). Oliver was instrumental in bringing the voices of the Sunflower movement to the international stage during the occupation of the Legislative Yuan in March and April this year, and I fondly remember tuning in to listen to his reports from the chamber as events unfolded.

Hugely talented and multilingual, Oliver was key to facilitating awareness of the movement abroad, and his ability to communicate across language barriers made it possible for foreign observers in Taiwan to report on and generate international media awareness of what was a historical and hugely important development in the consolidation of the nation’s fragile democracy.

Although the reports on Oliver’s death have been sparse in detail, a number of troubling questions remain, which I hope prosecutors and investigators make every effort to answer beyond doubt, if only to bring some small measure of comfort to his family and friends.

I hope that prosecutors will order a full autopsy to determine the exact cause of death and identify whether Oliver had any injuries inconsistent with a motorcycle crash, as well as full fingerprinting analysis of his body and his motorcycle. Furthermore, a toxicology test should be carried out to see if Oliver had been under the influence of any drug, such as alcohol, that might have impaired his driving ability.

According to media reports, Oliver supposedly fell over the edge of a barrier about 9m into a valley, yet officers have said that the concrete barrier showed no signs of impact.

Although the barrier is low, the relatively dry conditions, as a picture in a China Times report showed, lend a certain improbability to the theory that his motorcycle suddenly lost traction and slipped underneath him, propelling him over the edge.

As someone who has been in a motorcycle accident involving the loss of traction, it is my experience that the force projecting you down, not up, is considerable and immediate.

Finally, I would urge police not to categorize this incident as an “accident” until it is proven beyond doubt.

Their investigation also needs to include Oliver’s mobile phone records and Internet activity immediately prior to and during his journey to Yilan, since apparently neither his mother nor partner knew why he was traveling to Yilan by motorcycle so late on a weekday evening.

If he was going to meet someone, that person should come forward and fully cooperate with investigators. Roadside cameras need to be examined to check whether there was any other traffic on the road around the same time and for possible witnesses.

In light of other accidents that have befallen active citizens over the past few years, including Black Island National Youth Front spokesman Dennis Wei (魏揚) and Taiwan Rural Front secretary-general Frida Tsai (蔡培慧), and in light of numerous threats various members of the Sunflower movement have received, not to mention the ubiquitous and pervasive activity and influence of “black gold” elements in Taiwanese society and politics, it is both sad and unpleasant that we cannot discount the specter of foul play or immediately rule it out as extremely improbable.

I therefore hope the authorities will take extra care with their investigation to clarify the exact events that led to Oliver’s death as soon as possible.

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