16 in Kyoto mowed down by minivan

Driver plows into busy crosswalk in Gion district

Kyodo, Staff Report

Three men and five women were killed and at least nine people were injured Thursday after a minivan crashed into pedestrians on a street in Kyoto’s historic Gion district, police and firefighters said.

The police confirmed the driver was among the eight fatalities. He was identified as Shingo Fujisaki, 30, from Nishikyo Ward, Kyoto.

The deceased were identified as Masahiko Okumura, 40, Kenji Koike, 77, Masako Kishimoto, 68, Momoyo Sawanishi, 61, Takako Kamoshita, 62, and Setsuko Hirayama, whose age was unknown. Police did not name the remaining woman.

Police are treating the accident as a case of negligent driving resulting in death and injury. They plan to autopsy the driver to determine his cause of death and mental condition at the time. Kyodo News learned from Fujisaki’s family that he had a history of epilepsy. Police said they will carefully look into any link between his condition and the accident.

According to the police, the minivan plowed into the intersection of Shijo and Yamato Ooji streets in Higashiyama Ward at around 1 p.m.

The area, a popular tourist site, was crowded with thousands of people admiring the ancient capital’s cherry blossoms, which are in full bloom. The accident took place about 50 meters from Minamiza kabuki theater.

Before ramming the pedestrians, who were crossing the street, the minivan rear-ended a taxi and appeared to flee until it crashed into a telephone pole about 100 meters north of the accident site and came to a stop.

A 29-year-old man who was among those injured by the accident said that “a silver vehicle ignored the red traffic signal and ran into pedestrians walking by and left without stopping.”

Police said the driver was apparently a delivery man.

A Kyoto municipal spokesman contacted by The Japan Times said there were no plans to close down the traditional geisha quarters after the accident. The city said that approximately 170,000 visitors a day were projected to visit the area this month, about the same as in 2010.

The Gion district is close to Yasaka Shrine and Maruyama Park, which are among the city’s most popular spots for viewing cherry blossoms.