BANGKOK — On a sunny December afternoon, British-Thai lecturer and photographer Leo Gauvain was crossing a small street in Bangkok after finishing a meal at a nearby food stall. It would be the last moment of his life.
As he reached the western side of Soi Sukhumvit 22 – at a construction site opposite a five-star hotel – a huge metal gate fell and killed him on the spot, along with a Cambodian worker who was installing it.
More than a year later, Leo’s family said they have yet to receive justice. A negligence charge on building owners and contractors has gone nowhere. A separate criminal lawsuit filed by the family only had its first hearing Friday. The presiding judge proposed a settlement, but the session was adjourned two hours later without any agreement.
“Victims shouldn’t be asking for justice on their own,” Leo’s father, businessman Patrick Gauvain, said in an interview outside the courtroom, where defendant lawyers argued with the judge over the compensation.
Kathathong Thongyai, a mom luang, and 10 other executives of construction firm Golden Grove Ltd, are named as defendants in the negligence allegations. The contractor in charge of the site, Suthat Chumsri, was also named as a co-defendant.
Gauvain said he has requested a 21-million baht compensation from the defendants. He said it’s a reasonable amount because Leo was meant to help lead his design and marketing firm.
Gauvain, 71, said his plan to retire last year was abandoned because of Leo’s abrupt death. He added that he’s still paying back the school loans Leo took out for his education in the United Kingdom.
But while Suthat the contractor engineer is willing to contribute to the compensation, owners of Golden Grove balked at paying because they believe the contractor in charge should be held solely liable, Gauvain said.
The presiding judge, who per court practice is not named, noted to Gauvain’s family during the hearing that the laws also hold the contractor responsible for any mishap.
“But what about business ethics?” family friend Kotasit Rangsit, who holds the tile mom ratchawong, said to the judge.
A lawyer representing Golden Grove would not comment beyond saying he would contest the case in accordance to the justice process. The attorney, who declined to give his name, also asked a reporter not to publish the story about Friday’s trial because it’s a “sensitive” matter.
Speaking to a reporter outside the courtroom, Suthat said he’s remorseful for the incident and willing to pay whatever compensation the judge orders.
The hearing was eventually adjourned without any settlement reached. The next hearing is set for April 2.
The site where Leo died is now a condominium complex called Kata, just opposite Marriott Marquis Hotel. It’s on Soi Sukhumvit 22, popular with tourist bars and Thai massage parlous. Sainampeung School is located down the alley.
Kotasit, among the first to receive news of Leo’s death, said it could have been anyone else. He also alleged that there was no warning sign at the construction site that might have alerted Leo.
“It could have been one of the tourists staying at the five-star hotel,” Kotasit said. “And if it happened on Monday, 10 school children could have died.”
Indeed, news of the fatal accident went viral on social media, where many saw it as one of the too many examples of random hazards to Bangkok’s pedestrians and motorists.
In December 2015, a man required 100 stitches after falling into a manhole. City Hall reportedly refused to pay compensation. In October, two motorcyclists were wounded when an advertisement billboard collapsed on them.
Patrick said he was incensed by the lack of communication from Golden Grove in the aftermath of the accident. According to the businessman, the firm only contacted him four days after Leo died, and a day after Channel 3 news host Chuwit Kamolvisit discussed the case on television.
Leo Gauvain was born and raised in Bangkok until the age of 12, when he left to study in the UK. He graduated from the Arts University Bournemouth with honors at 22 and returned to lecture there briefly.
Although Leo did help manage his father’s business, his real passion was always in teaching and photography, Patrick said. An exhibition featuring Leo’s last shooting works, compiled in a photobook called Yung Yoo, or “Still Here,” will open at a gallery next week.
“It’s particularly unusual that he named it Yung Yoo,” Patrick said. “It was his signature of saying he’s still around.”
The “Yung Yoo” event will launch 6pm on Feb. 2 and run through Feb. 24 at Galerie Oasis, an art house inside the same building as Cinema Oasis. The venue is located on Soi Sukhumvit 43, a short walk from BTS Phrom Phong. Entry is free.