OTSU, SHIGA PREF. – The driver of a car involved in a crash in Otsu that left two pedestrians dead, a boy and girl, both 2, has told investigators she was not paying enough attention when she made a right turn and hit a minivehicle that was traveling in the opposite lane at an intersection, police sources said on Thursday.
The driver of the car, Fumiko Shintate, 52, was arrested at the scene of Wednesday’s accident and police are investigating her on suspicion of negligent driving resulting in death and injury.
The driver of the minivehicle, Michiko Shimoyama, 62, was also arrested at the scene but released later Wednesday after the police apparently deemed she did not have a high degree of responsibility for the accident.
Shimoyama’s minivehicle was the only one equipped with a dashcam, according to the police, who are now analyzing images captured from the camera.
Of the 13 children hit, two toddlers — Gaku Ito and Yui Harada — were killed and a third was left in critical condition. The other children and three nursery teachers were injured.
Both drivers were uninjured in the crash, which happened at around 10:15 a.m. as the children and teachers from Leimond-Oumi Nursery School were taking a walk near the school.
The drivers were on their way home from shopping and insisted the traffic light was green, according to the police.
Police believe both women were driving within the speed limit, judging from the damage to their cars.
National Police Agency Commissioner General Shunichi Kuryu told a news conference Thursday that the police intend to beef up safety measures, as there were no guardrails or curbs at the intersection, including by setting up more guardrails along routes to and from schools nationwide.
Neighbors and others on Thursday left flowers, snacks and beverages at the crash site as an offering to the young victims.
“It is unbearable to think that children who had only lived two years of their lives died,” said Yoshitaro Fujinaga, 81. “I don’t want people who get behind the wheel to think lightly of driving.”
“I see many children in this area. It pains me to think that the deceased children may have been among them,” said a 76-year-old woman.
The nursery school was closed for the day on Thursday.
At a news conference held Wednesday evening, Hiromi Wakamatsu, the head of the nursery school, said the two children who died were sweet and always smiling. She then burst into tears while trying to answer reporters’ questions.
Another official, Kazunaga Aoki, said the school will refrain from taking the children on walks for the time being.
“We will reaffirm the safety of our walking course,” he said.
According to local residents, the nursery schoolchildren and their teachers are frequently seen taking walks in the area, which is near Lake Biwa. Traffic is often heavy on the road there, they said.
A 49-year-old woman who came to pick up her 3-year-old grandchild at the school on Wednesday said she was worried when she heard about the accident.
“The school has been careful about safety during outings,” she noted.
The families of the two toddlers who died didn’t speak to the media Thursday. At Ito’s house, the curtains were closed and no voices were heard. At the Harada residence, a hand-written sign was posted: “Please refrain from talking to us or photographing.”