Pedestrian’s Killing at Bangkok Crosswalk Sparks Outrage, Derision among Thais

Nontarat Phaicharoen
2022.01.28
Bangkok
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Pedestrian’s Killing at Bangkok Crosswalk Sparks Outrage, Derision among Thais Mourners place flowers next to the crosswalk where a female doctor was struck and killed by a motorcyclist on Phaya Thai Road in Bangkok, Jan. 25, 2022.
Thai News Pix

Outrage and dark humor have flowed freely in Bangkok this week after a policeman on an unlicensed Ducati motorcycle allegedly struck and killed a young doctor at a crosswalk, and then tried to enter the monkhood to atone for the deed after being slapped with seven charges.

The killing of ophthalmologist Waralak Supawat-Jariyakul at a pedestrian crossing here last week and the post-accident actions of the young cop suspected of plowing into her has unleashed a torrent of sarcasm via social media.

The story has come to symbolize the perils citizens of the Thai capital face when crossing its traffic-choked streets on foot – even at the black-and-white crosswalks where motor vehicles are supposed to yield to pedestrians.  

Ying Nui, a university student in Bangkok, said she has become adept at the “20-meter-dash at zebra crossings” because drivers do not give way to pedestrians.

“I call it my own CrossFit. You have to imagine like you are running for your life, or as if an angry dog is chasing you,” she told BenarNews.

At around 3:10 p.m. on Jan. 21, Dr. Waralak was trying to cross Phaya Thai Road at one of those marked crosswalks.

Cars had stopped to allow the eye doctor to cross, but witnesses told local media that a “big bike” passing vehicles from the wrong side hit her at a high speed, sending her flying 10 meters (32.8 feet) away.

“The estimated speed … was 108 to 128 kph (67 to 80 mph) according to the forensic team who investigated the scene,” Thai police said on Friday. The road’s speed limit is 80 kph (50 mph).

The motorcyclist fled on foot. The doctor died moment later at a nearby hospital, three days shy of her 34th birthday.

It took authorities two days to identify the motorcyclist as Norawit Buadok, 21, a riot-police lance corporal who had bought the 900-cc red Ducati Monster in December.

Police said Norawit, who confessed, could face 10 years in prison if convicted of the charges that include reckless driving causing death. On Friday, police added another charge against the young cop – driving above the speed limit – officials told reporters.

On Jan. 24, the day after the first charges were filed, Norawit and his father, Sub-Lt. Nikhom Buadok, entered the monkhood to “make merit” and compensate for the doctor’s death. Photos of Norawit getting his head shaved lit up social media.

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Pedestrians wait at a crosswalk on Phaya Thai Road, Bangkok, Jan. 25, 2022 [Thai News Pix]

Police Maj. Gen. Nakarin Sukonthawvit, chief of the riot police, said he spoke to Norawit, who was “deeply sorry.”

“He said he wanted to [become ordained] to make merit for Dr. Waralak and that this decision was entirely his own, with no influence from his superiors,” Nakarin told local media.

The Sangha Supreme Council, the Buddhist governing body in Thailand that opposes suspects being ordained as monks, said it would disrobe Norawit – who did not wait for the council to act.

“I will leave the monkhood tomorrow [Jan. 26]. I feel discomfort and beg for pardon and apologize,” Norawit told reporters on Tuesday. 

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WinsatonSamith posted a tweet comparing The Beatles crossing Abbey Road in London and what could have happened in Bangkok. [WinsatonSamith twitter @ WinsatonS]

Backlash

Artists and satirists have turned to Twitter to comment on the incident.

“RIP Dr. Rabbit [Waralak’s nickname] and may God bless you who have to cross the road in Thailand,” said a Twitter post by WinsatonSamith (@WinsatonS). It shows the famous album-cover photo of The Beatles crossing Abbey Road. But in this rendition, John, Paul, George and Ringo fly into the air after being hit by a motorcycle.

Another Twitter post by satirist Luckleg (@Luckyleg88) showed people trying to cross the road in Thailand as if it were a deadly game in the popular Netflix series “Squid Game.” 

Uninspired by Current Events (@Uninspiredby) has posted four illustrations since the accident, including one titled “Criss Crossing.” They show police officers painting a motorcycle sign over a pedestrian crossing. It has been retweeted more than 86,000 times.

Political cartoonist Stephff (@stephffart) tweeted a cartoon showing the suspect fleeing the scene dressed as a monk and leaving a police uniform behind.

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[Cartoon by Kuad for BenarNews]

Another Thai was not convinced that Norawit’s response showed remorse.

“Does anyone think like me that he was advised to enter the monkhood? Not only would he be safe when he shows up to apologize to the family, but he would be treated with respect as a monk,” Rattanaporn Too said in a Facebook post.

Last week’s fatal accident “shed light on two of the root causes of the problem – the mentality that pedestrians do not matter and the lax enforcement of laws, according to one Thai journalist.

“The overall cost of living is cheaper in Thailand than in the West, but so are lives,” Hathai Techakitteranun, deputy editor-in-chief of Thai PBS World, said on her website.

Young and reckless

For many, last week’s death reminded them of a 2010 incident when a wealthy 16-year-old girl rammed her car into a university van, killing nine people. Orachorn “Praewa” Thephasadin became an emblem of Thailand’s wealthy and powerful being able to avoid prison as she was ordered to perform 138 hours of community service. 

More recently, Red Bull heir Vorayuth “Boss” Yoovidhya was charged with reckless driving causing death over a 2012 incident where his Ferrari allegedly struck and killed a police officer. The suspect apparently left the country.

Thailand had the highest annual rate of road traffic deaths in Asia, with 32.7 fatalities per 100,000 people, according to the World Health Organization’s 2018 Global Status Report on Road Safety. It was the ninth highest globally, with most other countries being in Africa.

About 20,000 to 22,000 people die in road accidents every year in Thailand, according to government data. The Thai public health ministry reported 800 to 1,000 pedestrians were killed between 2016 and 2018.

By comparison, about 22,000 deaths have been blamed on COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.

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