Car behind deadly crash began rapid acceleration after exiting underground garage

Posted on : 2024-07-04 16:27 KST Modified on : 2024-07-04 16:27 KST
No skid marks were found, suggesting that either a brake malfunction or that the driver didn’t hit the brakes until after the collision
Early on July 2, police cordon off the area around a car that was at the center of a deadly crash on July 1, 2024, near City Hall Station on the Seoul Metro. (Yonhap)
Early on July 2, police cordon off the area around a car that was at the center of a deadly crash on July 1, 2024, near City Hall Station on the Seoul Metro. (Yonhap)

The vehicle that crashed into a sidewalk in downtown Seoul on Monday evening, claiming the lives of nine people, began to rapidly accelerate the instant it emerged from the underground garage of a hotel, investigators have found. That undermines the theory that the accident may have been caused by driver error after entering a one-way street in the wrong direction from the parking lot. The passenger who was in the car at the time of the collision continues to claim that the vehicle’s brakes didn’t work.

In a Wednesday briefing, Namdaemun Police Station in Seoul addressed the question of when the vehicle’s rapid acceleration began. “We have video confirmation that the vehicle began to accelerate at a small rise at the exit of the hotel’s underground garage,” a police spokesperson said.

The vehicle came out of the hotel parking garage and made a 90-degree turn to the right before entering a one-way street (Sejong-daero 18-gil) against the flow of traffic. Investigators found that when the vehicle came out of the underground garage, there were no unexpected circumstances such as a near collision with another car.

“We can tentatively assume that the rapid acceleration may have begun when the gas pedal was depressed to make it over the rise and then held in that position,” said Jang Hyo-seok, a senior researcher with the Traffic Safety Research Institute at Samsung Fire and Marine Insurance.

A Hankyoreh reporter who visited the exit of the underground parking lot on Wednesday found that there was a gentle rise, followed by a right turn onto the street.

A 67-year-old surnamed Lee with 40 years of driving experience tried driving a vehicle out of the underground parking lot in question. “An experienced driver would have naturally taken their foot off the gas pedal while going over the rise to slow down, considering that you’ve got to look both ways before merging onto the street. It’s hard to understand why a bus driver would have rapidly accelerated while going over the rise,” Lee remarked.

Early on July 2, police cordon off the area around a car that was at the center of a deadly crash on July 1, 2024, near City Hall Station on the Seoul Metro. (Yonhap)
Early on July 2, police cordon off the area around a car that was at the center of a deadly crash on July 1, 2024, near City Hall Station on the Seoul Metro. (Yonhap)

Amid ongoing confusion about the cause of the accident, the police on Wednesday dismissed rumors that the driver angrily slammed down the pedal during an argument with his wife, who was a passenger in the car.

“Those rumors have no validity given the sound recorded by the vehicle’s dash cam and video taken by security cameras at the hotel and in the surrounding area,” the police said.

The vehicle’s driver continues to maintain that the accident was caused by sudden unintended acceleration. “He pressed the brakes, but they didn’t work,” the driver’s wife told the police while being questioned as a witness on Tuesday.

No skid marks of the sort formed by slamming on the brakes were found in the area of the accident. That means that either the brakes didn’t work, or the driver didn’t press the brakes until after colliding with pedestrians and other cars.

The event data recorder reportedly contains evidence that the accelerator was depressed to 90% of full capacity, but the police declined to address that issue other than to say it’s “being investigated.”

The police have passed along their own analysis of the event data recorder, the vehicle itself, and video footage from the dash cam and security cameras to the National Forensic Service for analysis.

The driver himself hasn’t been questioned yet. “We plan to question him as soon as he makes a physical recovery,” a police spokesperson said.

The total number of people killed and injured in the accident increased by one on Wednesday, following news about an individual who sustained a mild injury. The current tally (including the driver) is at 16, with nine killed and seven injured.

By Kim Ga-yoon, staff reporter; Kim Chae-woon, staff reporter; Yoon Yeon-jeong, staff reporter; Goh Gyoung-ju, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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