HUALIEN, Taiwan – A Taiwan court on Saturday released on bond the manager of a construction site whose truck authorities believe caused a train accident that killed at least 50 people, but prosecutors vowed to appeal, as family members mourned the dead at the crash site.
Friday’s crash was Taiwan’s worst rail accident in seven decades, when an express train hit the truck that had slid down a bank beside the track from the building site. The site’s manager is suspected of having failed to properly engage the brake.
The train, with almost 500 people aboard, was traveling from Taipei, the capital, to Taitung on the east coast when it derailed in a tunnel just north of the city of Hualien. Forty people are in hospital, from among the 178 reported injured.
Prosecutors had applied to a court to detain the manager on charges of causing death by negligence, a justice ministry official told reporters on Saturday.
But a court in Hualien released the manager, Lee Yi-hsiang, on a bond of 500,000 New Taiwan dollars ($17,525), although it restricted him from leaving Taiwan for eight months and said he had to stay in Hualien.
The court said that while the truck’s fall into the path of the train was possibly due to negligence, there was “no possibility of conspiracy.”
Yu Hsiu-duan, head of the Hualien prosecutors’ office, said it would appeal against the decision.
“The court said there was no reason to keep him in custody,” she told reporters. “The court changed it to a surety of $T500,000.”
Lee’s court-appointed lawyer declined to comment to reporters as he left the court.
Family members visited the site on Saturday afternoon to mourn the dead, some crying out “Come back!” and bringing personal belongings with them like dolls.
The youngest person confirmed to have died was a 6-year-old girl, the oldest a 79-year-old man, according to a government-issued casualty list.
Workers have begun moving the train’s rear portion, which was relatively unscathed as it had stopped outside the tunnel away from the accident spot. Other mangled sections remained in the tunnel, where fire department official Wu Liang-yun said more bodies were likely to be found.
“We’re still carrying out rescue work,” he added.
President Tsai Ing-wen visited hospitals in Hualien to speak to family members and survivors, thanking ordinary people and nongovernment groups for efforts to help.
“This shows the good side of Taiwanese society,” she said.
The government has ordered flags flown at half mast for three days in mourning, while the de facto French embassy in Taipei confirmed that one of its citizens had died in the crash.
Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry said one U.S. citizen was among the dead and another was missing.
In a rare sign of goodwill from China, which claims Taiwan as its own territory, President Xi Jinping expressed his condolences over the crash, the official Xinhua News Agency said.
The accident happened at the start of a long holiday weekend. The train was packed with tourists and residents going home for the traditional Tomb Sweeping Day to clean the graves of ancestors.
Taiwan has no domestic travel curbs as the COVID-19 pandemic is well under control, with only a handful of active cases in hospital.
Taiwan’s worst train crash was in 1948, when 64 people are estimated to have died when a train caught fire.
The train in Friday’s accident was manufactured by Japan’s Hitachi Ltd., making it the second deadly accident in Taiwan involving a Japanese-manufactured train in less than three years. In October 2018, a train made by another Japanese firm, Nippon Sharyo Ltd., was involved in a deadly accident.
“It’s true that the train was made by Hitachi. But we’re unaware of the cause of the accident, so I can’t make comment,” a Hitachi official said earlier.
It took two years for Taiwan to release the final investigation report on the October 2018 crash, in which 18 people were killed and 291 were injured.
Although that accident was found to have been linked to administrative issues, a damages lawsuit has been filed against Nippon Sharyo.
Hitachi supplied a total of 48 train cars to Taiwan in 2006-2007. In 2015, the firm received an order from Taiwanese authorities for 16 additional cars.
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