Taiwanese prosecutors have concluded their investigations into a tragic tour bus fire that occurred in July near the Taipei airport and killed all 26 people on board, including 24 tourists from the mainland. It turns out that the truth is about as bad as you could imagine.
On Saturday, investigators said that the bus driver, 53-year-old Su Ming-cheng, deliberately set fire to his vehicle. Since he also died in the inferno, no criminal charges will be filed and the case has been closed, Taiwan’s Central News Agency reports.
The incident occurred just before 1 p.m. on July 19th. Surveillance camera footage from a highway near Taoyuan airport shows the tour bus hurtling down the road out of control and on fire, before crashing into a guard rail. Preliminary investigation into the fire theorized that it may have been caused by an electrical circuit overload. Investigators also pointed out that the vehicle’s emergency exit might have failed to open because of anti-theft modifications.
However, two months later, prosecutors have arrived at a different cause for the fire. They say it was started deliberately by Su, ruling out the possibility of an electrical fire.
Su is said to have purchased gasoline at a petrol station on day four of the eight-day tour around the island. He later poured the gasoline into several plastic containers. Investigators announced at the end of July that they had found five of these suspicious bottles inside the vehicle.
They also said that a very high blood alcohol content had been detected in the dead body of the driver. Prosecutors believe that Su got extremely drunk to get up the courage to pour gasoline all over the driver’s seat and on the floor near the exit, before setting it ablaze with a lighter while passengers looked on in horror inside the moving bus.
As for Su’s motive for self-immolation, prosecutors said that it was due to family pressure, along with the fact that he had just been sentenced to five years in prison for rape.
Earlier, Su’s family came to his defense, telling reporters that he could not have attempted suicide as he had three children at home and was about to change his job. A spokesperson for the bus company is also quoted as saying at Su’s funeral that no colleague has ever seen him touch alcohol.
However, investigators discovered dozens of phone records between Su and his family in the days before the fire, with relatives pleading with him not to kill himself, Shanghai Daily reports.
“Don’t you love the three children in your family? Don’t let them be ashamed. If you do this, it will bring shame to us all,” a text message from his sister read.
Su also had a history as a violent drinker. He had been detained for 25 days after injuring another tour guide while drunk. And, in May, he was suspended by the bus company for getting into a fight with another driver.
Because of the incident, Su’s family received NT$2 million (420,000 yuan) in insurance compensation, but now they will likely face compensation claims from the insurance company, travel agency, tour bus company and victims’ families.
On Facebook, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen expressed her condolences to the families of the Chinese victims, and asked that the Taiwanese people show their empathy at this time. The number of mainland visitors to Taiwan has fallen off dramatically this year as tensions between Tsai’s new government and Beijing increase. While some are perfectly happy with the drop off in tourists from the mainland, the Taiwanese travel industry is not, demanding that the Taiwanese government tackle the costly problem.