SINGAPORE, June 9 — The driver of a BMW car involved in the high-profile fatal crash along Tanjong Pagar Road last year had a blood alcohol level just past the drink-driving limit, with the vehicle hitting close to 150km/h at one point.
These details emerged today (June 9) during the first day of a coroner’s inquiry into the deaths of Jonathan Long Junwei, 29, and his four passengers on February 13, 2021.
It was the highest number of people killed in a single traffic accident in the past decade.
Long had been showing off his newly-bought two-door BMW M4 to several friends who had gathered to celebrate the first day of Chinese New Year, the coroner’s court heard.
After drinking at an Ang Mo Kio home, they decided to have supper at a Korean restaurant — owned by one of them — along Tanjong Pagar Road around 4am.
Three others went behind the wheel of Long’s car and drove around the area, which had a speed limit of 50 km/h, before Long took over for the last round.
His passengers, who were all his current and former colleagues at Aviva Insurance, were Eugene Yap, 29; Elvin Tan Yong Hao, 28; Teo Qi Xiang, 26, also known as Wilson; and Gary Wong Hong Chieh, 29.
Long was speeding at 148 km/h at one point and started to lose control at 110 to 148 km/h, before crashing into a shophouse at 37 Tanjong Pagar Road and catching fire at about 5.40am.
All five died of severe burns. Long’s girlfriend, Raybe Oh Siew Huey, 26, suffered severe burns to her body after trying to save them.
‘Excited’ to check out car
On Thursday morning, an investigation officer (IO) from the traffic police, Senior Staff Sergeant Muhammad Firdaus Suleiman, took a packed courtroom through his investigation report.
Several family members of the deceased persons were present. They were represented by Long’s father, Gary Wong’s older sister Michelle, and Yap’s brother.
IO Firdaus told the court that the five who died had been drinking with Ms Oh, Ms Phoo Yilin and Mr Park Se Jin on the evening of Feb 12, 2021.
They then went to their common gathering area, Tanjong Pagar Road, to have supper but all the restaurants were closed.
This was why Park decided to open up his restaurant, the now-defunct Hong Jja Jang eatery, for them to continue drinking. They left around 4am.
Long then wanted to show off his newly-bought white BMW to his friends outside the restaurant. They were “excited” and “wanted to see how the car looks like and feels”, IO Firdaus told the court.
Phoo had also told the authorities in a statement that Long had been “very persuasive” in seeing who could drive the fastest.
For the first round, Yap decided to drive with Phoo and Park as his passengers. He was speeding between 75 to 88kmh, according to a speed analysis report prepared by the Health Sciences Authority.
Phoo then took over the wheel for the second round with the two men as her passengers. She drove at 52 to 59 km/h.
For the third round, Park was the driver with only Phoo in the car with him. He was speeding at between 125 to 181 km/h when he passed a taxi driver, Loy, who was waiting at the nearby Tanjong Pagar Plaza taxi stand.
The cabby, along with another eyewitness who was staying at Tanjong Pagar Plaza, described hearing an extremely loud revving sound. Loy said he felt a “very strong vibration” before the car went past him “at a very fast speed”.
The route that all the drivers had taken was along Tanjong Pagar Road towards Keppel Road. They then made a U-turn and went back down Tanjong Pagar Road towards Maxwell Road, before making another U-turn at 37 Tanjong Pagar Road and back towards Mr Park’s restaurant at 97 Tanjong Pagar Road.
Driver and passengers drunk
On the fourth and final round, Long got behind the wheel because he wanted to show how the car should be driven, IO Firdaus said. Wong, Tan, Teo and Yap then entered the car as well.
IO Firdaus said that Wong had a seatbelt on, while Teo did not because he was sitting in a non-designated seat. The authorities were unable to determine if the other three had their seatbelts on because the car had been severely burned.
Phoo began filming them on her mobile phone. Based on her video footage, Long drove at 148km/h.
When he began losing control of the car, he was speeding at about 110 to 148km/h based on closed-circuit television footage from shophouses nearby.
As the car skidded and mounted the kerb, it was travelling between 87 and 99 km/h. It then crashed into the shophouse at about 115 to 141 km/h.
All five in the car were either alive or barely alive when it burst into flames, IO Firdaus noted.
The officer revealed that Long had 86 milligrams of ethanol per 100 millilitres of blood. The drink-driving limit is 80mg per 100ml.
He also had a 46 per cent saturation level of carboxyhaemoglobin in his blood from smoke inhalation. This could have caused him to lose consciousness and render him unable to extricate himself from the fire, IO Firdaus said.
The four passengers were similarly drunk. Yap had a blood alcohol level of 119mg/100ml; Teo’s was 162mg/100ml; Tan’s was 128mg/100ml; and Wong’s was 111mg/100ml.
Teo suffered injuries to his vertebra and underlying cervical cord that would have affected his ability to breathe and move. Wong, who sat in the rear left passenger seat, also had pelvic injuries.
Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) personnel arrived at the scene around 5.46am. They had been unable to approach the car initially because the heat was too intense, and the passenger door was obstructed by the shophouse’s closed roller shutters.
The SCDF personnel managed to extinguish the fire at 6.08am and extricate the five men. Paramedics then declared all of them dead.
--Charge pipes modified-- The BMW was sent for a mechanical inspection. While an investigator was not able to determine any failure that could have contributed to the crash due to the extent of damage, the car was fitted with non-original charge pipes.
The original factory-fitted pipes were made of silicon and could tear or puncture due to high air pressure flowing through the pipes. Engine heat could also lead to premature deterioration, IO Firdaus said.
The new pipes, meanwhile, were made of strong aluminium material with a heat-resistant coating.
When questioned by State Coroner Adam Nakhoda on why the pipes had been changed, IO Firdaus said he could not comment on whether it was to increase the car’s performance or if it was done deliberately.
The mechanical investigator could not find any other modifications — for example, methanol injections to increase horsepower — that could have caused the car to malfunction.
The airbags also did not deploy because the sensors were on the front and rear of the vehicle, IO Firdaus said. The car was on its side when it crashed into the shophouse.
The inquiry will continue on Thursday afternoon with an SCDF investigator taking the stand. ― TODAY