Sun, Jul 31, 2016 - Page 1 News List

Deadly bus crash driver had sexual assault conviction

By Jason Pan  /  Staff reporter

Relatives of Su Ming-cheng, the driver of a bus in which 26 people died in an inferno, yesterday shield themselves and the urn containing Su’s ashes as they bring the urn to its final resting place in Kaohsiung.

Photo: CNA

An investigation into the cause of a fiery bus crash on July 19 that killed all 26 people on board is looking at the possibility of a murder-suicide committed by the bus driver, who prosecutors yesterday said was convicted on sexual assault charges just weeks before the accident.

Prosecutors confirmed Su Ming-cheng (蘇明成), 53, was found guilty of sexual assault on a female tour guide for which he was sentenced to five years in prison and ordered to pay NT$900,000 (US$28,190) compensation to the victim.

The incident occurred in Hualien in 2013, they said.

Su appealed a lower court’s guilty verdict, but judges upheld the conviction in the second ruling last month, they added.

According to the tour bus company’s records, Su was scheduled to drive the tourist group from China’s Dalian City around Taiwan from July 12 to July 19, which was his first shift since the second ruling.

On the way to the airport for the tour group’s departure flight on July 19, the bus was engulfed in flames and rammed through a highway barrier, killing all 24 Chinese tourists, a Taiwanese tour guide surnamed Cheng (鄭) and Su.

Investigators said Su was also involved in another lawsuit against a police officer who allegedly conducted an illegal search of his motorcycle in 2006, adding that Su sued for NT$1 million, but the court awarded him NT$50,000.

Directorate-General of Highways officials yesterday said there is no specific regulation that prohibits tour bus drivers from getting a license if they have a criminal record.

Both Su and his wife were born in China and they applied to come to Taiwan on family dependency status, investigators said, adding that after obtaining Taiwanese citizenship, Su and his wife had three children.

Su had worked as a tour bus driver for the past 20 years.

Taoyuan District Prosecutor Wang Yi-wen (王以文) said prosecutors have not ruled out that Su may have planned to kill himself by deliberately setting fire to the bus and killing those onboard as well.

There were also fresh allegations made by fellow drivers who said Su had often complained of long work hours and low pay — he was reportedly paid between NT$25,000 and NT$30,000 per month, but received additional pay for taking tourist groups on multi-day package tours and stopping at souvenir shops.

Yesterday’s development came a day after Wang said: “It was a case of drunk driving and the driver was severely drunk,” based on an autopsy that indicated Su had a blood alcohol content of 1.075mg/L, far exceeding the legal limit of 0.15mg/L.

Investigations also found Su had five large plastic bottles of gasoline onboard, leading prosecutors to suspect Su might have committed a murder-suicide.

Some people said they do not believe in the evidence presented by judiciary officials, because it seems they are trying to shift the blame onto Su, who is dead and cannot defend himself, while taking the focus away from the flouting of safety regulations and alleged negligence by the bus company, and avoiding a cracking down on the entire system of low-cost, low-wage tourist packages for Chinese travelers to Taiwan.

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