Runaway garbage truck kills U.S. tourist on Copenhagen's busiest walking street

Updated: 2012-08-30 19:26:00

(Xinhua)

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COPENHAGEN, August 30 (Xinhua) -- A runaway garbage truck ploughed into pedestrians on Denmark's main walking street Wednesday night, killing an American national and injuring others.

Copenhagen police spokespersons said the garbage truck was a small, open-topped, two-seater electric-powered vehicle that appeared to drive-off by itself while its driver was emptying rubbish bins.

Eyewitnesses on the scene told police they saw the driverless vehicle lurch into motion and accelerate to a high speed. The vehicle collided with a tourist, who is identified as a 60-year-old American man, who was killed almost instantly.

Police said the man was a cruise-ship passenger who had arrived in Copenhagen Wednesday morning.

"We can only say that this is a tragic accident. And we are shocked at how this could go so wrong. We still don't know the reason for his death," said Copenhagen Police Duty Officer Jens Kristiansen in comments cited by Danish news website Politiken.dk.

"Maybe he was run over, or he fell and hit his head badly on the pavement, that we don't know," he added.

Four other pedestrians were lightly injured in the collision and received on-the-spot treatment. The vehicle's driver was taken to a local hospital where he is said to be receiving counseling.

"(The driver) did not hear the vehicle start, so it must have started by itself. A vehicle inspector has since checked the vehicle and it has now been brought in for further investigation so we can determine whether it was a human or technical error," Kristiansen said.

While the exact cause of the victim's death is yet to be determined, police and medical officials on the scene expressed surprise that such a collision could be fatal.

The accident took place on Stroeget, which is Europe's longest walking street, at around 19:00 local time (1700 GMT). Police subsequently cordoned-off the area temporarily and called in several ambulances to the accident site.

City officials have not been able to explain why the accident occurred after the sanitation worker had parked the vehicle while on his rounds emptying rubbish bins on Stroeget.

According to an initial inspection report, a sensor in the vehicle's driver's seat, which disengages the motor when the vehicle is unoccupied, appeared to have malfunctioned and caused it to accelerate instead of brake.

Copenhagen City Council has now ordered all of the city's electric utility vehicles to be taken out of service until the cause of the incident can be determined.

"This is a utility vehicle developed to be used on Stroeget. We have used this kind of vehicle for the past three or four years," said Claus Robl, manager of the council unit responsible for keeping the city clean.

"We have a relatively large pool of such vehicles and we have never had such an incident occur before, so I don't know what has gone wrong," he said to Politiken.dk.

Police are now examining surveillance-camera footage from Stroeget to ascertain how the accident took place. They have informed the U.S. Embassy in Copenhagen of the tourist's death and are expected to conduct a medical inspection of his body Friday.

Located in the heart of Copenhagen, Stroeget is a 1,081 meter-long pedestrian promenade closed to normal, vehicular traffic. Lined with top name boutiques and historic architecture, it is a favorite among tourists to the city. Celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of the street's founding are scheduled to take place here Sunday.

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