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Was it `road rage' or an accident?
( 2004-01-06 00:48) (China Daily by Xiao Liu)

A heated debate started yesterday across the nation over a legal case involving a middle-aged woman thought to be a relative of a high-ranking official who killed one person and injured another 12 when she drove her BMW vehicle into a crowd in Harbin in Heilongjiang Province.

The suspect Su Xiuwen is standing trail. [Filephoto/Sina]
Debate focused on whether the death and injuries were actually deliberate and the sentence was lenient due to her relationship with the official.

The 45-year-old woman defendant was sentenced last month by a local court to two years' imprisonment with a three-year reprieve.

Online comments reckoned the court decided on a "too light punishment'' because the driver, Su Xiuwen, was reportedly a daughter-in-law of the chairman of Heilongjiang Provincial Political Consultative Conference.

Local police denied the rumour late last month.

The Beijing News reported that the case will undergo further investigations by local police, in response to a demand from higher authorities. The result of the investigation is said to be required to be submitted by Saturday.

The Harbin Daoli District People's Court, in the lawsuit's first hearing, decided that it is a traffic accident caused by Su's negligence, instead of an intentional crime out of anger.

But netizens obviously disagreed.

Among some 70,000 comments on the news on Sina, a famous Chinese web portal,most netizens said the court judgment is unfair to the victims, especially the woman that was killed by Su's BMW, also 45 years old.

Many comments appealed for a retrial of the case as they believed it is not an ordinary traffic accident but an intentional murder.

The vehicle involved will be tested by experts to decide what indeed was the cause, sources said.

The brand, BMW, might also be a reason for the great attention given to the case. It is a symbol of wealth in this country, where some experts warn the rich-poor gap has widened to a very critical degree.

On October 16, the dead victim's husband, Dai Yiquan drove a quadricycle full of green Chinese onions in Harbin's Daoli District and scratched the rear view mirror of Su's BMW car, according to the indictment of the local procuratorate.

Su then got out of the car and began to beat Dai. Keeping silent, Dai did not hit back, said sources.

Surrounding residents then advised Su to back her car up a little to see how serious her mirror was damaged.

The the astonishing thing happened.

The BMW suddenly rushed into Liu Zhongxia, Dai's wife who stood around 30 centimetres in front of the vehicle. Liu was killed immediately.

Su continued to drive the car for around 10-odd metres, knocking down another dozen people and was stopped by a tree on the roadside. The last person to be knocked down was sandwiched between the car and the tree.

Local police said that Su made a mistake by stepping on the accelerator instead of the brake pedal that she intended to strike, due to being flustered.

"But I feel that a normal driver could have responded quickly... that she struck so many people including killing one,'' Hui Baogang, a local lawyer told the Beijing News.

An anonymous net citizen who uses the same model vehicle as Su's -- a BMW X5 3.0 -- listed eight reasons online to prove Su intentionally rushed into the crowd to murder.

"The brake pedal of this car is much wider than the accelerator. I do not think a driver couldn't feel the big difference,'' the net citizen said.

Others focus on whether Su indeed spoke the words "Do not you believe that I will knock you dead?'' before getting into the car.

Dai Qingjiang, nephew of Dai Yiquan said a person at the scene told him that Su uttered that phrase before knocking 13 people down.

But nobody indicated that at court. Du's daughter was quoted in Shenyang Today newspaper:

"My mother was 45 years old when she was killed by the BMW and Su Xiuwen is 45 years old as well,'' 16-year-old Dai Mengyao, daughter of Liu Zhongxia, said.

"But their fate is different. Su drives an expensive BMW and my mother now can't even sell onions now,'' she said.

The girl said she does not care whether Su is punished to imprisonment of one year or 10 years, "It is not important at all since my mum is not here.''

Su told the Beijing News, "I am a victim as well. I can go nowhere now.''

Su paid Dai Yiquan more than 90,000 yuan (US$11,000) in compensation and the other 12 injured were paid about 180,000 yuan (US$22,000) in total.

The Shenyang Today reported that Su signed a deal with Dai, requiring Dai not to pursue the case any further, including speaking to the news media.

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