Cabby bashed by drunk man: I forgive him but...
Deprived of oxygen for 15 seconds as a drunk man held him in a chokehold, cabby Chan Chuan Heng wondered if he was going to die.
Fortunately, two strangers rushed to his aid.
But the attack left him so badly hurt, the 46-year-old ComfortDelGro cabby could not work for five months.
Mr Chan is slowly piecing his life together, and the first step on his road to recovery is forgiving the man who assaulted him.
His attacker, Norwegian national Arne Corneliussen, 50, was jailed for 10 weeks last Wednesday.
On Sept 22 last year, he assaulted Mr Chan at the intersection of Circular Road and North Canal Road at around 1am.
Corneliussen, a Singapore permanent resident, had turned violent after Mr Chan refused to take him in his taxi because he needed to go to the toilet.
Recalling the chokehold, Mr Chan told The New Paper in his four-room flat in Bedok Reservoir: "I couldn't breathe. I thought to myself, 'Will I die? Will I see my wife again?'
"I struggled but he was too heavy and too strong for me to fight back."
Mr Chan said he was about to lose consciousness when two strangers yanked Corneliussen off him.
"I call them my heroes. I was relieved that I could breathe again and sat on a kerb to regain my breath."
One of his rescuers called the police, but Corneliussen fled before the officers arrived.
Mr Chan was taken to the Singapore General Hospital, where he was found to have a fractured foot and a wound on his right arm.
He was given seven days of medical leave and had to have metal pins inserted into his foot
He could not work for five months.
He had to move around in a wheelchair for three months and use crutches for the next two.
Mr Chan, who is married to a 45-year-old housewife with no children, had to dip into his savings and borrow money from relatives to pay for such necessities as food and household bills.
Mr Chan, who earns about $3,000 a month, resumed driving in late February. He did not have to pay the rent for his taxi during the five months as he had returned it to ComfortDelGro.
The bulk of his medical expenses, which came up to $10,000, was covered by insurance.
On Corneliussen, he said: "I've already forgiven him but I will never forget. I just want to move on with my life."
Mr Chan, who works up to 12 hours every day, said he started his shift at around 8pm on Sept 21.
He headed to Boat Quay at about 1am after one of his cabby friends alerted him that many people were waiting for taxis in the area after the Singapore Grand Prix festivities.
The court heard that Mr Chan had parked his taxi at the intersection of Circular Road and North Canal Road near Boat Quay to take a break when Corneliussen tried to open the taxi's left rear door.
Mr Chan apologised to the burly Norwegian and told him he had to go to the toilet.
When Corneliussen, who had been drinking at Clarke Quay, slapped him on the right cheek, Mr Chan uttered an expletive and exclaimed: "Why did you hit me?"
Corneliussen lunged forward when he heard this and ran after the cabby who had dashed off.
After about 12m, Corneliussen stopped, returned to the taxi and tried to open the rear door again.
Mr Chan was walking back to his vehicle when Corneliussen saw him and chased him again. When the cabby fell, Corneliussen pinned him down and used one of his arms to keep him in a chokehold for about 15 seconds before he was pulled away.
Mr Chan, who is about 1.7m tall and weighs 80kg, said Corneliussen, who was wearing a Formula One lanyard, was a head taller.
"I just wanted to avoid a fight so I ran away. He looked crazy and stank of alcohol," he added.
"But I twisted my foot and fell. He caught up, pinned me down and choked me."
Mr Chan said he now walks with a slight limp and his foot still hurts.
He said: "I had nightmares for about a week after the incident but I'm fine now.
"I think I was just very unlucky to be attacked that day."
I couldn't breathe. I thought to myself, 'Will I die? Will I see my wife again?' I struggled but he was too heavy and too strong for me to fight back.
- Mr Chan Chuan Heng
Keep calm and carry on driving, say cabbies
Taxi drivers often encounter violent and aggressive passengers. But this does not mean it should be part and parcel of the job, they said.
TransCab driver Joseph Ho, 55, said he gets rude passengers - most reeking of alcohol - about once a month.
His worst experience was picking up an intoxicated youth, who kept spitting in his vehicle, from a club on Sentosa a few years ago.
"I had no choice but to stop the vehicle. I told him to alight and take another cab. That's when he stared at me and pushed my shoulder," he said.
But Mr Ho, who has been a cabby for 14 years, kept his cool.
"It's difficult to stay calm in such situations, especially when the passenger is insulting you and your entire family.
"But we have to because we are just making a living and we don't want to get into trouble," he said.
ComfortDelGro cabby Henry Tay, 45, recounted an incident where a passenger verbally abused him from the moment he boarded the taxi.
Mr Tay, who has been driving a cab for seven years, simply smiled at the aggressive passenger.
"I consoled myself that after the 30-minute ride, I may never see him again," he said.
National Taxi Association's executive adviser Ang Hin Kee has suggested placing an inward-facing camera in cabs to deter passengers from becoming aggressive.
"It doesn't matter if it's a taxi driver or any other service provider, there's no excuse for being violent," he said.
- RONALD LOH
I consoled myself that after the 30-minute ride, I may never see him again.
- ComfortDelGro cabby Henry Tay, recounting an incident with an abusive passenger
Other similar cases
A drunk passenger tried to run away without paying his taxi fare - and then punched the cabby for going after him to get the money.
Insurance agent Joachim Gabriel Lai Zhen, 23, was given a two-week short detention order on Feb 3 this year for attacking Mr Tan Keon Chae, 55, at Chai Chee Drive on May 19, 2013.
But there was a stay of the order, a community-based sentence, pending a prosecution appeal.
Mr Tan had repeatedly asked Lai to pay up, but he refused and punched the cabby on the nose and the back of the head.
Lai went through five days of trial last year before owning up to the assault.
A 21-year-old man punched a cabby because was unhappy that the driver had picked up other passengers instead of him.
On Feb 10, 2013, Shane Chia Chih Wei hit Mr Yeo Tze Phern's cab bumper to stop him from driving off. Then he climbed into the rear passenger seat, which was already occupied by two women and beat him up.
The cabby suffered a bruise on his cheek and needed six days of medical leave.
Chia was jailed a month for the attack on Mr Yeo, 52, last November. He was also jailed a year for grievously hurting a 21-year-old woman with a glass cup over another dispute in October 2013.
A project executive was jailed for six weeks on Sept 16 last year for punching a taxi driver in the face and head after a dispute over payment of the taxi fare.
The 24-year-old man pleaded guilty to causing hurt to Mr Mohamed Zaki Md Jizan, 32, who suffered a broken nose and multiple bruises in the attack at a carpark at 450, Ang Mo Kio Avenue 10, on June 22 last year.
The attacker had drunk more than 10 glasses of hard liquor and vomited in the taxi before the assault.
Attacker gets 10 weeks' jail
During sentencing last Wednesday, Arne Corneliussen told District Judge Lim Tse Haw he regretted his actions and what he had done was totally out of character.
The Norwegian, who was a programme management director in a courier company, added that he was sacked on Dec 7 last year and was in a bad state as his wife had undergone a very expensive operation.
Corneliussen pleaded guilty to one count of voluntarily causing hurt on March 24. A second charge of slapping the cabby was taken into consideration during sentencing.
Before sentencing Corneliussen to 10 weeks' jail, Judge Lim said the attack was sustained and brutish, and a clear message had to be sent to ensure public transport workers could work in a safe environment.
For voluntarily causing hurt, he could have been jailed up to two years and fined up to $5,000.
Corneliussen had also given Mr Chan $30,000 in compensation in January.