AYUTTHAYA — Supachai Poowong and his colleague Narapan Ngencharoen were coasting along a motorway bound for Ayutthaya after playing football together, heading toward the U-turn that would point them back toward Bangkok.
The U-turn was just 600 meters ahead when a black Mercedes-Benz zoomed past them at tremendous speed and slammed powerfully into the back of another car, right before their eyes. It was a Sunday. March 13, 2016, to be precise. The crash, they would later find out, killed two graduate students.
As they recounted to an Ayutthaya court Tuesday morning, Supachai stopped the car and raced to help pull a man from the Mercedes-Benz, which flipped over and came to a halt not far from the fiery wreckage of the Ford. A prosecuting attorney asked them if they would identify who they pulled from the car for the judges.
“It is that man, sitting in the back,” Narapan told the judges. “Mr. Jenphop Viraporn.”
On the opening day of Jenphop’s long-delayed trial, Supachai, 46; and Narapan, 24; were the first of a string of witnesses to testify against the scion of a luxury car dealer who, at the time, was spared a sobriety test by local police and not charged until four days later.
The pair were described as the most crucial witnesses because it was them who recorded and posted footage of the car crash, which led to widespread attention on social media and prompted police to take action against Jenphop.
In their testimony, Supachai and Narapan told the court how Jenphop appeared to be speeding at about 180kph when he crashed into the Ford carrying the two victims, Krissana Thaworn and Thantapat Horsaengchai.
Also in the courtroom was Krissana’s mother, who cried quietly as she listened to the firsthand account of her son’s death.
“The car zoomed past me and crashed about three seconds later,” Supachai said. “Judging from my eyes, he was probably going at 160 or 180kph.”
Investigators would later confirm Jenphop was traveling at over 200kph.
After the crash, which sent debris from the Ford all over the left side of the road, Supachai parked and ran to the Mercedes. He pried open the door while Narapan dragged Jenphop out of the car. They were the first two people at the scene, before “six or seven” onlookers rushed to help.
Jenphop looked “dazed and confused” and did not utter any word, according to Narapan. Asked whether he smelled any alcohol on the driver, both Supachai and Narapan said no.
After laying Jenphop down on the side of the road and leaving him to the care of other bystanders, Supachai and Narapan continued on their way to Bangkok. It was that evening when they checked the dashcam mounted on Supachai’s car and found spectacular footage of the crash.
Local police did not immediately take action against Jenphop for the crash. He was not only permitted to leave the crime scene and go to hospital with his family, but also allowed to forego mandatory sobriety testing.
When two days passed without any action, Narapan and Supachai said they decided to post the video on YouLike, a popular Facebook page, to raise attention.
Without exposure from the video, the case may not have gone anywhere. Nongkarat Rungsang, a younger sister of Krissana, said police merely told her at first that her brother suffered an accident without mentioning Jenphop.
“They are the most important witnesses,” Nongkarat said during a recess Tuesday before two other eyewitnesses and an auto technician were to take the stand.
The video – and suspicion of a police cover-up – reignited public outrage over cases in which the wealthy seem to be above the law. Following public outcry, the investigating officers were removed, and the case transferred to regional police. Police commissioner Chakthip Chaijinda also issued a rare apology for the delay.
Supachai and Narapan said the video also brought them unwanted attention from the media and police. They said there were times they were afraid for their own safety, but they never regretted sharing the video.
“I don’t regret it,” Narapan said. As Supachai said, “We did it for the sake of the dead victims.”
Jenphop is now charged with refusing a sobriety test, which under the law automatically invokes a charge of driving under the influence. He also faces charges of fatal reckless driving, speeding and resisting the police. If convicted of the most serious charge, he faces up to 10 years in prison.
Jenphop attended the hearing with his mother. He declined to be interviewed. Thantapat’s family did not attend the hearing. Her parents were too ill to come to court, their lawyer said.
Other witnesses to testify Tuesday included a Ford technician and two other commuters who saw the crash. One is an elderly, partially paralyzed man who traveled from the northern province of Chiang Mai on his own to testify.
The witness examination will continue through Friday, with other witnesses including police investigators to be called in the first week of May. Jenphop is expected to take the stand May 4 and May 9. A verdict is expected in June.