A taxi driver subjected to a vigilante beating after the vehicle he was driving ploughed into a crowd of protesters in Hong Kong has blamed the crash on someone reaching in and pulling on the steering wheel, the owner of the car said.
Henry Cheng Kwok-chuen, 59, told his family the intervention on Sunday caused him to lose control of the taxi, leaving a woman injured, according to an account released by Jumbo taxi owner Chau Kwok-keung, who leased the vehicle to Cheng.
The driver was then battered by a mob for allegedly targeting demonstrators while working in Sham Shui Po during an anti-government protest against the anti-mask law, which triggered fresh violence and outrage across the city last weekend.
A 23-year-old woman reportedly suffered serious fractures to both her legs after the taxi mounted the pavement outside the Cheung Sha Wan government offices before smashing into a shopfront.
The Hospital Authority refused to release information on the injured woman’s condition at the request of her family. But Chau said he knew from various sources the woman had suffered a broken leg and had dislocated her knee on the other.
Cheng, who was immediately surrounded by a large crowd and assaulted, was still in Princess Margaret Hospital on Thursday. He had suffered several rib fractures and was in a stable condition.
Police said the driver lost HK$20,000 (US$2,550) in cash and a watch worth about HK$140,000 during the fracas. The car was also smashed up.
The case had been classified as “rioting, wounding, criminal damage, theft, and traffic accident causing injury”. The driver has not been arrested for any offences, as of Thursday afternoon.
A police source said the force was looking at all angles when approaching the case, including the mental status of the driver during the incident.
Chau, who rented out his premium taxi to Cheng for HK$830 per day, confirmed Cheng had picked up an order on Sunday to go to Royal View Hotel in Tsuen Wan to collect a passenger.
At about 4pm, the driver became stuck in Sham Shui Po on his way to the customer at roadblocks set up by protesters.
“I was told by his family that he was trying to move his vehicle, causing anger from the protesters. Some even went to attack the two wing mirrors and hit the side of his car, which made him very frightened,” Chau said.
In the account sourced from his family, Chau said somebody managed to get into the car and was pulling the steering wheel in an attempt to stop Cheng from driving his vehicle, resulting in his taxi losing control and ramming into the crowd of protesters.
“Nobody would like to see the occurrence of any accident. I also feel pain seeing this. I would like to give my deep condolences to the injured woman,” Chau said.
On Cheng stashing a large amount of money in his taxi, Chau said the driver might have planned to use the sum for his vehicle rent, as cabbies usually made the payment in cash twice a month.
A pro-Beijing organisation Safeguard Hong Kong, which includes a group of business and political leaders, has started a fundraising campaign for the driver, promising to raise HK$520,000 for him.
Cheng had been renting his Jumbo taxi for about six months, said Chau, who added: “I never asked his political stance. I am only a businessman.
“I will rent out my car fleet to whoever I see fit, irrespective of their political stances. I just hope that everybody can calm down and won’t resort to radical actions.”
Chau said the taxi was still being detained by police, and he expected to be able to receive compensation through insurance of about HK$150,000 for the vehicle, which cost him HK$250,000.
Police have said the taxi was attacked after veering to avoid a roadblock in Nam Cheong Street on Sunday afternoon.
While reaching the junction of Yen Chow Street and Cheung Sha Wan Road, the taxi’s windscreen was smashed.
According to police, the driver was first attacked while still inside the taxi, before the vehicle lost the control.
“The driver was then dragged out of the vehicle and assaulted by a crowd of people,” police said in the statement.
On Tuesday, a 20-year-old man was arrested in Sham Shui Po for rioting. He was later released on bail pending further investigation.
Hong Kong has been in the grip of violence and division since the anti-government movement erupted in June, sparked by the now-withdrawn extradition bill.
Additional reporting by Clifford Lo