buffer Bins & bodies used as
When you walk past a rubbish bin, you'd hardly think of it as safety equipment.
It's designed to protect the environment, not you.
But bus driver Lee Kim Huat turned it into a shield to protect himself from the rioters who were hurling things into his bus when the Little India riot broke out on Dec 8 last year.
Like him, the man dubbed the Little India Hero also found "a shield" to use against the rioters. In his case, he used his own body, just like the police officers who formed a human shield.
These were some of the details that emerged yesterday on Day 1 of the Little India riot Committee of Inquiry (COI) hearing.
A fatal traffic accident in Little India had sparked Singapore's first riot in over 40 years.
Presided over by a four-men panel led by former Supreme Court judge G. Pannir Selvam, the committee is tasked with finding out what led to the riot, how it unfolded, whether ground forces had reacted appropriately and if more needs to be done to handle incidents in areas where foreign workers congregate.
During his opening statement, Senior State Counsel David Khoo showed video footage of the events leading up to the incident, beginning with a clip of the fatal accident.
Indian national Sakthivel Kumaravelu was killed when he fell into the path of a bus he had been asked to leave minutes earlier. Intoxicated, he had tried to run after it but fell and was crushed by the bus' left wheels.
When bus driver Lee got off the bus to check what had happened, a crowd had gathered around him and blamed him for causing Mr Sakthivel's death.
The hearing continues today.
The 3 'shields'
SHIELD 1: THE HERO
When some of the gathered crowd started attacking bus driver Lee Kim Huat, who had got off the bus to see what he had run over, an unnamed man in a checkered shirt stepped in.
As some of the rioters began hitting Mr Lee, the man grabbed him and told him to get back into the bus for his own safety.
He also stood at the bus entrance with his arms stretched out to form a barrier, so no one could get into the bus.
Madam Wong Geck Woon, a timekeeper, was also starting to get assaulted when the man led her towards the bus.
She stood on the steps while he blocked the crowd from entering.
Investigators have been unable to contact the man, subsequently dubbed the Little India Hero. He is believed to have left Singapore.
SHIELD 2: THE RUBBISH BIN
The bus windows had been smashed by objects thrown by the mob. Some were even hitting the glass doors with their bare hands.
After glass in one window was broken, rioters managed to throw a large rubbish bin into the bus, which Mr Lee used as a shield.
It was perched horizontally on two seats, across the centre aisle.
Mr Lee hid beneath the bin while the crowd outside continued pelting the bus with projectiles, with some even managing to get their hands through the front windscreen.
All this, while Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) officers were trying to extricate Mr Sakthivel Kumaravelu's body.
SHIELD 3: THE POLICE
Police officers had to form a human shield to hold back the crowd while SCDF officers extricated Mr Sakthivel's body from under the bus.
Rescuers then got to Mr Lee and Madam Wong, who were still on the bus.
Police formed a human shield against the unruly mob and led them out of the bus to safety.
Driver could not have seen victim: Scientist
The driver of the bus that ran over Mr Sakthivel Kumaravelu, sparking the Little India riot, could not have seen him running towards the bus.
That was what a forensic scientist said during the Committee of Inquiry (COI) hearing, which began yesterday.
A senior consultant forensic scientist at The Forensic Experts Group, Dr Michael Tay, was the first witness.
He presented his accident reconstruction report to the committee, which explained why the driver, Mr Lee Kim Huat, 55, was not able to see Mr Sakthivel, 33.
Mr Sakthivel had chased after the bus after he was told to alight by Madam Wong Geck Woon, 38, a timekeeper who worked at the Singapore School Transport Association.
Video footage taken from four of the five CCTV cameras installed on the bus was played in the courtroom, with Dr Tay explaining the clips frame by frame.
1. The footage showed Mr Sakthivel "appear, disappear and reappear" beside the bus as he kept pace with its changing speeds.
But when he reappeared by the bus, he did so at an angle that was beyond the field-of-view of the left wing mirror.
2. Only the CCTV cameras mounted on the wing mirrors of the bus could capture Mr Sakthivel running towards it.
Committee Chairman G. Pannir Selvan said the driver could not have used them, as looking at the dashboard-mounted screen would mean not paying attention to the road, which was congested with people and other vehicles at the time.
3. The bright external lights and the wet glass on the bus could have impeded Mr Lee's vision of the victim.
4. Mr Sakthivel could have tripped and fallen onto the path of the front left tyre.
Mr Sakthivel was also drunk when he died, according to a toxicology report.
Dr Yao Yi Ju, an analyst at the Health Sciences Authority (HSA), said there was 217mg of ethanol detected in 100ml of blood.
That meant that Mr Sakthivel was moderately to severely intoxicated, which could have impaired his judgment and reaction time.
HSA pathologist, Dr Marian Wang, who performed the autopsy on Mr Sakthivel, also took the stand yesterday.
When asked by the COI chairman to estimate the amount of alcohol he took based on his blood alcohol level, Dr Wang said he could have consumed around two litres of beer containing 4.5 per cent alcohol.
But she said it was a theoretical calculation and could be inaccurate.