Buck stops nowhere as street deaths continue

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Ly Van, hale and hearty at 83, kept himself fit with a round of cycling early in the morning.

On the morning of April 19, near the corner of Tran Phu and Nguyen Tri Phuong streets, a hanging telephone wire got entangled in the wheel of his bicycle, causing him to fall off.

Passers-by rushed the unconscious senior citizen to the Cho Ray Hospital.

Van died at the hospital on April 26, after seven days of treatment. Doctor Luu Thanh Nam told Tuoi Tre newspaper that Van had suffered severe head injuries and CT scans showed the brain hemorrhage had worsened steadily.

Ly Khai Tan, Van's son, said that his father was in good health before the accident and riding the bicycle on the street was his morning exercise.

As tragic as Van's death was, what followed provoked public outrage as authorities displayed no ability to find and punish those responsible for the fatal accident, and parties involved absolved themselves of any blame.

According to a report by Cho Lon Power Company, made at the scene on the day the accident happened, with representatives of two telecommunication companies, VNPT and Viettel, the cable that caused the accident belonged to FPT, another telecom firm.

FPT, however, rejected the contention.

District 5 police said they were looking into the case and there the matter stands to date.

In Vietnam, most telecommunication companies hire poles owned by electricity companies to carry their cables. Lawyer Co Le Huy of the HCMC-based Dai Viet Law Firm said that both the electricity and telecommunication company should be held responsible in this case.

"The electricity company is not only responsible for the electric poles. It is responsible for ensuring the safety of the cables," he told Thanh Nien.

Huy said employees of Cho Lon Power Company assigned to manage the cable at the accident site must be charged with "being irresponsible and causing a serious accident."

He also said that police should have launched an official probe into the case right after the accident and pressed charges against involved people.

Meanwhile, Judge Vuong Van Nghia of the HCMC People's Court said that the telecommunication company that owned the severed cable should compensate Van's family, based on the Civil Code.

Nghia said it would be difficult to press criminal charges in this case because the prevailing Penal Code only allows individuals to be charged with specific crimes, not a company or an organization; and finding evidence to press charges against individuals in such a case would be very difficult.

"It's easy to say that the individuals tasked with managing the cable should be held responsible, but it would be difficult to verify the exact level of irresponsibility necessary to press criminal charges. For instance, was he aware of the condition of the pole and cable and would such a condition lead to a severed cable or collapsed pole?"

But lawyer Bui Quang Nghiem of the HCMC Bar Association said that concerned authorities should exhibit determination in handling this case and punishing the culprit. "You cannot blame lack of clarity or loopholes in laws to skip the case or not handle it thoroughly," he said.

Van's death is not the only one that has taken place in recent times on HCMC streets where concerned authorities have not filed charges against anyone.

On January 18, Huynh Minh Khanh, 14, came into contact with a live wire as he walked past a construction site in the rain.

Locals in Thu Duc District found Khanh about 15 minutes later after he was electrocuted by a wire between the construction site of the Suoi Nhum drainage system and a neighboring medical station.

It was drizzling at the time and neither the drain contractor nor the medical station accepted responsibility for the death.

In September last year, 10-year-old Tran Trung Huy was electrocuted when he touched an electric pole while playing football on the sidewalk, and a month earlier, eighth grader Co Quoc Duy was killed while riding his bicycle near an electric box on a flooded street.

In none of the above cases has anyone been charged for causing the death of the victims.

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