Hawker's death ruled an accident

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 31 May, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 31 May, 2007, 12:00am

Drowning of vendor a mishap, inquest rules

A five-member jury suggested yesterday that frontline hygiene workers should be given crisis training after finding that the death of an elderly hawker who drowned while escaping a raid by hawker-control officers was an accident.

The jury heard earlier that officers had watched Lo Kong-ching, 65, sink in a Tin Shui Wai nullah but had not tried to save him because they had no training and no rescue gear.

A diver who found Wong's body told the court it would be dangerous for an untrained person to try to save someone from a silted nullah.

The jurors returned their verdict after a two-day inquest and two hours of deliberation.

Coroner William Lam Kui-po had earlier directed them to rule out misadventure and to choose between an open verdict and accidental death.

'Frontline workers at the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department should receive training on handling a crisis,' the jury's report said.

Lo, described by his son as a capable swimmer, died after jumping into the 50-metre wide nullah near Tin Yan Estate on June 26 last year.

He was found face down in the silt at the bottom of the nullah, 15 metres from the opposite bank, with his feet partially trapped in the silt.

Four Food and Environmental Hygiene officers told how they witnessed the deceased gradually sinking, in less than a minute, under the muddy water.

They said they lodged a police report after seeing Lo slow down half way across the nullah then ran to the other side to look for water rescue gear but found none.

The officers said their emergency kits could only handle minor cuts. For any emergency, they generally reported it to the police and let them handle it.

Five family members including Lo's wife attended the inquest but refused to comment on the ruling.

'We just want to thank the neighbourhood residents who testified and the jury, thank you,' said Lo's daughter outside court.

Ms Lo said they would consult their lawyer on whether to seek compensation from any parties.

A Food and Environmental Hygiene Department spokesperson said emergency or crisis training was given to all hawker-control officers from August and December last year, and the department would continue to provide such training.

Lo Kai-wah, the youngest son, said his father had been hawking in the public estate for a few years.

He said bystanders told him they heard hawker-control officers say 'Let's see how far you can swim' after his father jumped into the nullah.

But all officers denied saying it or hearing anyone else do so. They also said they did not know the man was a hawker, and that none of them saw him jump in.

Court records showed Lo was fined in March and May last year for hawking at the scene of the tragedy.

Officer Po Ka-hon and his superior, Fan Hing-cheung, denied Lo jumped to his death to escape their raid.

Mr Po told the inquest that they did not plan to make any arrests. He and his partner Wong Yeung-kwong said they had earlier been hiding to monitor the hawkers.

A retired man, Ng Woon-yau, who was the only civilian to testify, said the officers appeared after someone chanted 'escape arrest'.

He said he saw some hawkers escaping and Lo running towards the nullah.

Mr Ng said he heard the officers tell Lo not to run or climb. He said more than 100 onlookers called for help but no one reacted.