The Thai media has dubbed them the “deadly rich kids” – young people of privilege who, while driving in fancy cars, were involved in fatal accidents.
Two weeks ago, they returned to the spotlight after Red Bull heir Vorayuth Yoovidhya failed to show up in court to hear charges over a 2012 hit-and-run case.
The 31-year-old Vorayuth was recently spotted in London, and one report in the Associated Press said that he has been travelling and vacationing with family and friends over the last 41/2 years.
“There’s a joke in Thailand… Remember those know-how books? In Thailand it’s not know-how, it’s know-who,” said political anthropologist Niti Pawakapan, an associate professor at Chulalongkorn University’s political science department. “We also call it sensai, meaning strings, networks, connections.”
It is easier for the rich to tip the scales of justice in Thailand, according to Associate Professor Niti.
“Cases in court take years and years and years. The rich have the money to pay for the best lawyers and they’d be so happy if the case drags on for 20 years,” he said.
Local media recently compared Vorayuth’s case with that of former teacher Jomsap Saen-muangkhot, who was sentenced to three years and two months’ jail in 2013 for running over and killing an elderly biker.
Despite maintaining her innocence, she served 18 months behind bars before being granted a royal pardon in April 2015.
Mr Chuwit Kamolvisit, a former politician-turned-television host, has criticised how Vorayuth’s case has been handled.
“The suspect has been dragging his feet. Now society is sceptical about the role of the state prosecutors,” Mr Chuwit said on TV.
But Mr Prayuth Petchkhun, the spokesman for the Prosecutor’s Office, denied that officials were dragging their feet.
He said: “Do we want to wrap up this case quickly? Of course, we do. It’s our policy that justice delayed is justice denied. But all cases have different factors. It’s just a coincidence that this case is about a famous person.”
It would appear, however, that many remain apathetic about the case.
A few individuals tried to start a #boycottredbull hashtag on Twitter last week but it failed to catch on. It managed to attract only about 30 tweets.
Here is a look at four high-profile fatal road accidents involving wealthy drivers:
Vorayuth Yoovidhya, 31, nicknamed “Boss” and heir to the Red Bull energy drink fortune, crashed into a police officer on motorcycle patrol while driving his silver Ferrari on a Bangkok street on Sept 3, 2012.
He did not stop and, instead, dragged the victim for around 100m.
The officer died at the scene of the accident, while Vorayuth fled, but investigators followed a trail of brake fluid which led them to the gated estate of one of Thailand’s richest families.
Vorayuth is facing two charges of reckless driving causing death and failing to help a crash victim.
The statute of limitations on the reckless driving charge is 15 years, expiring on Sept 3, 2027, while that for the other is five years, expiring on Sept 3 this year. Charges of speeding and reckless driving causing damage to others’ property have been dropped because their one-year statute of limitations has expired.
Vorayuth faces more than 10 years’ jail if found guilty on both charges. He will be formally indicted on April 27.
Mr Kanpithak Pachimsawat, son of businessman Kan-anek and former Miss Thailand Savinee, drove his Mercedes-Benz into a crowd on July 4, 2007, killing a bus conductor.
He had quarrelled with a bus driver who hit his car while driving in the Asoke area.
When the bus stopped at a traffic light, Mr Kanpithak got out of the car to confront the driver, who told the passengers to switch to another vehicle.
Mr Kanpithak returned to his car and rammed into the waiting passengers, trapping three people underneath before it came to a stop. His lawyers told the court that Mr Kanpithak, who was 20 at the time of the incident, had mental health problems.
In 2015, the Supreme Court sentenced him to two years’ imprisonment for killing and injuring others. He paid two million baht (S$81,000) to the victim’s family.
NO LICENCE TO DRIVE
ORACHORN DEVAHASTIN NA AYUDHYA
Ms Orachorn Devahastin na Ayudhya, daughter of a former military officer, was 16 and too young for a driver’s licence when her Honda Civic rear-ended a van carrying professors and students on Dec 27, 2010, on the Don Muang tollway.
Nine people died and seven were severely injured. A photograph showing her calmly using a mobile phone shortly after the accident was widely circulated, sparking public anger.
She was charged with unlicensed driving and reckless driving causing deaths and injuries and property damage, and is banned from driving until she is 25.
In 2015, a Bangkok civil court ordered Ms Orachorn to pay about 27 million baht (S$1 million) in total compensation to the victims.
Janepob Verraporn, scion of chemical industry distributor Lenso Group, crashed his Mercedes- Benz into a Ford Fiesta on an empty stretch of the Ayutthaya highway on March 13 last year.
The victims, a couple in their 30s, died on the spot.
A dashcam video widely shared on social media showed Janepob’s car rear-ending the victims’ vehicle, which burst into flames.
Janepob survived with minor injuries and refused both alcohol and drug tests. Another dashcam video shared a few days after the accident showed his Mercedes smashing through an Easy Pass toll gate about an hour before the fatal crash.
Relatives of the victims are asking for 100 million baht (S$4 million) in compensation.
Janepob, 37, is facing seven charges, including double vehicular manslaughter and driving under the influence of alcohol, but his lawyers have argued that he is mentally unfit to stand trial.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 09, 2017, with the headline ‘Thailand’s deadly rich kids ‘.