CHIANG RAI — Several soldiers were present at a northern checkpoint where a motorist was shot dead last week, a fact not disclosed by police until today under pressure from the victim’s family.
After initially saying only civilians manned the roadblock where Sorachai Sathitraksadumrong was shot to death, a crime for which a community leader is now behind bars, police said Tuesday that armed military personnel were present.
“Based on the facts we have, there were soldiers at the scene,” Mae Suai Police Station chief Col. Vicharn Churit said today. He made no mention of the soldiers in a Friday interview.
The U-turn came after Sorachai’s family and neighbors went to protest Monday at the district administrative office to demand answers and justice for his killing.
In a letter they submitted to officials, the protesters said they had information that armed soldiers were present at the checkpoint on Jan. 2 and could have been responsible for shooting the 34-year-old contractor as he passed the checkpoint with his girlfriend in the car.
“Who’s behind the deadly checkpoint?” one banner at the protest read. “Who was the person who fired the killing shot?” questioned another.
Wutthichai Injai, a local deputy community leader, aka puu yai baan, was arrested two days after the shooting and accused of firing three shots at Sorachai’s car, including the fatal round that struck Sorachai in the head. He told police he meant to fire warning shots.
Sorachai’s girlfriend said they did not see the impromptu checkpoint set up along the road between Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. Wutthichai is behind bars awaiting trial, Col. Vicharn said.
A fourth bullet was also recovered at the scene, but Vicharn said it was fired by another individual at the scene who became excited. He did not identify that person, who was not arrested on any firearms-related charges.
Vicharn said all of the soldiers denied any involvement with the killing, and no witnesses have implicated them.
Asked whether the soldiers were armed, Vicharn said the soldiers told him they didn’t carry any weapons when he arrived at the scene of the crime, but he’s heard there was at least one military-issued rifle stored at the checkpoint.
“But I can’t confirm this yet,” Vicharn said. “We have to wait for more evidence. We have to inspect the ballistics, for example.”
Sorachai’s family said they would not hold funerary rites for him until they believe justice has been achieved.