Hong Kong inquest avoids Covid-19 curbs with virtual reality recreation of site where student Alex Chow suffered fatal injuries

Brian Wong
·3-min read

An inquest into the death of a Hong Kong student who fell at a multi-storey car park has avoided jury site visits amid Covid-19 restrictions by recreating the scene using virtual reality, the city’s first courtroom deployment of the technology.

Jurors wearing VR glasses were presented on Friday with immersive, computer-generated images depicting the location of Alex Chow Tsz-lok’s fatal fall in Tseung Kwan O last November.

The Coroner’s Court had asked government forensic scientists to map out the interior of the car park using the state-of the-art technology, to avoid having to arrange a site visit for the five-member jury with social-distancing rules in place for the pandemic.

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The Sheung Tak Estate car park where Chow suffered fatal injuries. Photo: Dickson Lee
The Sheung Tak Estate car park where Chow suffered fatal injuries. Photo: Dickson Lee

Chow, a Hong Kong University of Science and Technology student, was believed to have fallen four metres to a lower floor at the Sheung Tak Estate car park early on November 4, 2019.

Police at the time were dispersing anti-government protesters at a nearby junction using tear gas and other anti-riot weapons. Chow died in hospital four days after the fall.

The 22-year-old was seen walking towards the car park’s third floor when he was last captured on security camera.

CCTV footage at an adjacent residential estate showed a black shadow, believed to be Chow, falling in the building nine seconds later. Security cameras were unable to capture the events immediately preceding his descent.

Jurors watched the stereoscopic animation of the car park on a stage, temporarily erected in a conference room at West Kowloon Law Courts Building, with none of the city’s courts currently equipped with the technology.

Government chemist Jack Cheng Yuk-ki, who was involved in the system’s development, said the visuals were rendered by analysing the interiors of the car park using a specialised scanner, before converting the data into 3D surfaces.

“The simulation is extremely close to the real environment [of the car park],” Cheng said.

But the expert warned the technology also had its shortcomings.

Alex Chow died in Hong Kong last year aged 22. Photo: Handout
Alex Chow died in Hong Kong last year aged 22. Photo: Handout

Only some sections of the car park deemed relevant to the court inquiry were reflected in the presentation and it was not possible to recreate the car park’s design exactly as it was when Chow was there, Cheng said.

The scientist’s team visited the building to collect the data between April and September this year, by which time the car park had been repainted.

Cheng is expected to explain what may have happened to Chow inside the car park using the VR system when the inquest continues on December 28.

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