AYUTTHAYA — Citing a flawed police investigation, a court dismissed a DUI count against businessman Jenphop Viraporn, whose trial for a car crash that killed two grad students ended Wednesday in a guilty verdict.
The court found Jenphop, 39, guilty of all charges filed by the prosecutor except the most serious: fatal DUI, which carries a 10-year jail sentence. Instead, Jenphop was sentenced to a jail term of two and a half years on lesser charges. Incomplete evidence and contradictory testimony from the police were cited by the court as grounds for the dismissal.
Nevertheless, the families of the two victims, Krissana Thaworn and Thantapat Horsaengchai, said they were pleased with the verdict.
“I am satisfied that the court stressed the importance of safe driving,” Nongkarat Rungsaeng, Krissana’s sister, said Wednesday. “Society should see that when they drive recklessly, it can lead to loss and punishment.”
Jenphop’s driver’s license was also revoked for life.
Kanchana Horsaengchai, a sister of Thantapat, likewise said she welcomed the ruling.
“Our family did not have any expectation of what the verdict might be,” Kanchana told reporters.
Jenphop’s case drew much attention on social media due to his background as the scion of a luxury car dealership.
Reading the verdict Wednesday morning, judge Waikoon Sawangsuree said Jenphop drove with evident recklessness prior to the fatal crash on March 13, 2016, passing through several toll booths on the expressway without paying. A video also showed Jenphop breaking through a toll booth when one of the barriers failed to lift open.
At the time he slammed his Mercedes Benz into the back of a Ford on an Ayutthaya highway he was driving at 257 kph, the judge said. The impact set the Ford on fire and killed Krissana, 34, and Thantapat, 32.
Both victims were graduate students at a Buddhist university in the province.
For the deadly crash, the court found Jenphop guilty of a number of charges, including fatal reckless driving, speeding and driving without regard for others’ safety. He received a jail term of five years, which was halved to two years and six months because he pled guilty.
Jenphop and his family declined to speak to reporters after the verdict was read. A lawyer representing Jenphop simply said he accepted the court’s ruling.
The defendant was briefly detained after the verdict was read. He was eventually granted a bail release on the bond money of 200,000 baht. His also filed an appeal.
However, the most serious charge filed against Jenphop – driving under the influence – was dismissed by the court on grounds of insufficient evidence. It carried a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail.
Police filed the charge after Jenphop allegedly refused to undergo a sobriety test in the aftermath of the crash. Under the law, refusal to take such test automatically leads to a charge of DUI. Police also charged him with obstructing law enforcement officers.
Jenphop disputed the allegation, insisting that he did not object to the tests.
Judge Waikoon said a lot of the evidence supplied by police was flawed. For instance, one investigator testified that he asked Jenphop to take sobriety test in front of an X-Ray room at the hospital, while two hospital staff members told the court the officer asked him in the emergency room.
An initial police report of the crash did not mention the businessman declining the sobriety test, Waikoon said.
Documents detailing Jenphop’s alleged refusal also lack proper signatures and stamps, while one paper contained some sentences that were crossed out and edited without Jenphop’s knowledge, the judge noted.
“Therefore the evidence collected is not considered lawful under the criminal procedure act,” Waikoon said. He subsequently dismissed the charge.
In an infamous television interview that later went viral on the internet, a local police chief admitted he did not insist on a sobriety test on Jenphop, but only “asked” the hospital to do so.
The officer, Col. Pongpat Suksawasdi, also said Jenphop had the right to decline the test if he wished. His remarks sparked outrage on social media, where many suspect police were easy on him due to his affluence.
Speaking to reporters after the ruling, lawyer Wichian Chubthaisong, who represents Thantapat’s family, said he was disappointed to see the DUI charge dismissed.
“I was hoping the court would set a precedence in this case,” Wichian told reporters. “There should be a clear standard of how people who refuse sobriety tests should be treated.”
Asked whether he would take action against police investigators for bungling evidence against Jenphop, the lawyer said he needs to study the verdict in detail before committing to any action.
“I have to see the details, what flaws there were in the documents,” Wichian said. “But I’m sure that if there really are errors, the system has a way to rectify the situation.”
Jenphop was not charged for the crash on March 13, 2016, until four days later. Police only took action after a video of the high-speed crash surfaced on the internet, causing widespread uproar.
As though sensing his ruling would spark another round of controversy, judge Waikoon said at the beginning of today’s session that groundless criticism of the verdict could result in contempt of the court.
“I’d like to warn all sides that the verdict can be criticized on the basis of reason. But criticism based on emotion is at risk of legal action,” Waikoon said. “It is impossible to render a verdict that would satisfy everyone.”