In the blink of an eye, an unthinkable crash turned a night out into a nightmare

Posted on : 2024-07-03 17:31 KST Modified on : 2024-07-03 17:32 KST
It took all of a minute for nine people to lose their lives after a car crashed through a barricade and onto the sidewalk
Footage from the dash cam of a car in the vicinity captures the car that crashed as it cuts across lanes on a major road near Seoul’s City Hall Station on July 1, 2024. (courtesy of a reader/Yonhap)
Footage from the dash cam of a car in the vicinity captures the car that crashed as it cuts across lanes on a major road near Seoul’s City Hall Station on July 1, 2024. (courtesy of a reader/Yonhap)

At 9:26 pm on Monday, a group of coworkers emerged from a restaurant and stood on a corner near the Seoul City Hall intersection, in downtown Seoul. According to security camera footage reviewed by the Hankyoreh, barely 20 seconds later, a Genesis G80 crashed through the guardrails and plowed straight into them.

“We still have the flowers they brought with them when they visited,” said Park, aged 66, the restaurant owner. Park was keeping an eye on the establishment, which had become the epicenter of the horrific accident that occurred the night before.

“You’ll recall that the weather yesterday was really nice. The victims had bought a drink and must have gone outside for a smoke with their colleagues,” Park said.

Then there was a deafening blast, and everyone in the restaurant jumped to their feet and looked outside. The previous night’s accident remains fresh in the minds of the witnesses. “It feels like being in a daze,” one said.

The following account can be gleaned from witnesses, the Namdaemun Police Station and security camera footage viewed by the Hankyoreh. A Genesis G80 sedan emerged from the underground parking lot of the Westin Josun Hotel, in the Sogong neighborhood of downtown Seoul, at 9:26 pm. The vehicle abruptly accelerated while going the wrong way down a four-lane, one-way street before crashing into the sidewalk. Witnesses said the vehicle had whizzed by them while ignoring traffic signals and that they heard a loud bang when it struck the sidewalk.

“I thought a bomb had gone off. We could hear the loud crash from inside the store,” said a 47-year-old individual surnamed Kim, who owns a store near the location of the accident. Kim said the vehicle had also narrowly missed some pedestrians on a crosswalk.

In video footage from another security camera reviewed by the Hankyoreh, the vehicle can be seen breaking through the guardrail and running over pedestrians. People who had narrowly dodged the vehicle are seen milling around in apparent shock.

A still from a CCTV of a nearby business capturing the immediate aftermath of the car’s collision. (courtesy of a reader)
A still from a CCTV of a nearby business capturing the immediate aftermath of the car’s collision. (courtesy of a reader)

Nine pedestrians lost their lives in the accident, and the drivers of a BMW and a Sonata and two pedestrians were injured. The driver of the vehicle that caused the accident, a 68-year-old surnamed Cha, and his wife and passenger, a 65-year-old surnamed Kim, were taken to a hospital for their injuries.

The tally of dead and injured rose from 13 to 15 on Tuesday, including the drivers who had sustained mild injuries.

The police booked Cha for manslaughter under the Act on Special Cases Concerning the Settlement of Traffic Accidents and are looking into whether to request a warrant for his detention. The police said a blood alcohol test had confirmed that Cha hadn’t been drinking. A rapid drug test came back negative, but given the severity of the incident, the police also collected a blood sample for more thorough testing.

Cha reportedly claimed that the accident was caused by his vehicle’s sudden unintended acceleration, but the police said they haven’t been able to question him because he’s hospitalized for broken ribs.

With experts casting doubt on Cha’s claim about unintended acceleration, the police intend to recreate the vehicle’s sudden acceleration by combining footage from security cameras at the hotel and shops in the area and the testimony of victims and witnesses.

The police immediately impounded the Genesis G80 on Monday to preserve evidence and have asked the National Forensic Service for a detailed inspection. An analysis of the vehicle’s onboard event data recorder (EDR) will take a month or two.

The vehicle’s registration records, which were reviewed by the Hankyoreh, show a manufacture date of May 2018, with a total of 66,183 km traveled since then. The vehicle owner was Kim, Cha’s wife and a passenger at the time of the accident.

The vehicle had received standard inspections two times, in June 2022 and in May of this year, and there were three repairs on record.

Cha was reportedly a veteran bus driver with over 40 years of driving experience. “He’d been working with us for a year and four months on a temporary contract. His schedule was one day on and one day off, and the accident occurred on a day off. He had no accidents on record since joining the company,” an employee with Cha’s bus company told the Hankyoreh over the phone.

Prior to joining the company in question, Cha had reportedly worked as a bus driver in Seoul and also as a semi-truck driver.

Many people visited the intersection near Seoul City Hall where the accident occurred to pay their respects on Tuesday. Around ten bouquets of chrysanthemums rested against the guardrail, drenched in the heavy rain. “I hope the dreams of the departed will come true in the next life,” one message read.

“As a frequent pedestrian here, the accident could have happened to me. It’s a grim thought that kept me up last night. I dropped by on my way to work since I figured I should pay my respects to the victims,” said Bae Seo-yeong, aged 30, who stopped by the site of the accident.

By Kim Ga-yoon, staff reporter; Yoon Yeon-jeong, staff reporter; Go Na-rin, staff reporter; Lee Ji-hye, staff reporter

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