Taiwan truck driver jailed for train crash that killed 49 people

A Taiwanese truck driver was sentenced Friday to nearly eight years in prison for causing the island’s worst rail disaster in decades, which left 49 dead and more than 200 injured.

The April 2021 accident was caused by a railway maintenance truck that skidded down an embankment moments before a packed train was due to pass through the eastern coastal city of Hualien.

The vehicle had become stuck in bushes on a nearby road.

Prosecutors said truck driver Li Yi-hsiang, 50, and his assistant tried to free him with a cloth strap tied to an excavator, but the attempt failed and the vehicle instead fell onto the railroad tracks.

Li’s actions “resulted in numerous victims and severely affected social order while causing physical and emotional trauma to many victims,” ​​the Hualien District Court said in a statement as he was jailed for negligent homicide.

His assistant, of Vietnamese nationality, was acquitted by the court that did not state sufficient evidence for his participation in the “central act” of the accident, which consisted of tying the truck with the fabric strap that could not support the weight.

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Li failed to contact rail authorities or alert the train driver after the truck slid onto the track and then failed to call police or 911 after the crash, prosecutors said.

A lawyer for the victims’ families vowed to appeal the sentence because they felt the sentence was too short, the Central News Agency reported.

Li was part of a contracted railway maintenance team that regularly inspects eastern Taiwan’s mountainous train line for landslides and other hazards.

He was working to shore up a steep bank at the crash site.

The last major train derailment in Taiwan before this incident was in 2018, when 18 people died on the same line.

The driver in that case was sentenced last year to four and a half years in prison for negligent homicide by speeding and other misdemeanors.

Taiwan’s deadliest rail disaster on record was in 1948 when a train caught fire, killing 64 people.

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