• Kyodo


A truck driver believed to be responsible for the deaths of two elementary school children and injuring three others Monday has admitted he consumed alcohol during work before the accident, investigative sources have said.

Police on Tuesday searched the house and office of Hiroshi Umezawa, 60, who is suspected of negligent driving resulting in injury or death. Alcohol in excess of the legal limit was detected when he took a breathalyzer test after being arrested at the scene in Chiba Prefecture.

Police said it appeared he did not apply his brakes at the scene of the accident in the city of Yachimata, and that they are thinking of charging him with dangerous driving causing death or injury.

According to the transport company in Yachimata where he works, Umezawa was returning to the company at the time of the accident after delivering cargo to Tokyo.

Police are also checking whether the company, an affiliate of Nanbu Corp., a firm in Tokyo that processes reinforced steel bars, had any problems with the running of its operations.

Tatsuhiro Chinen, president of Nanbu, apologized for the accident, telling reporters he was terribly sorry that Umezawa had “caused the traffic accident by drunken driving, something that should never have happened.”

Chinen said the transport company does not routinely conduct alcohol tests for drivers, trusting them not to drink before or during work.

Umezawa has worked for the company since April 2005, and started work around 6 a.m. on Monday, according to Chinen.

Umezawa's truck hit a line of pupils as they were walking home from Choyo Elementary School at around 3:30 p.m. Monday, killing two boys and seriously injuring three other children, with one of them left unconscious, according to police.

Police quoted Umezawa as saying he crashed into the group of four boys and a girl after hitting a utility pole when he suddenly swerved to the left.

Bouquets of flowers were laid near the utility pole early Tuesday morning and people were seen praying.

"I cannot believe that small children were involved. I feel so sorry for the parents," said Shota Kojima, 24, from Yachimata.

"I feel regret that the children's futures have been taken away," said a woman in her 20s, adding, "As a mother with a child, my heart aches when I think about the parents' suffering."

Choyo Elementary School in Yachimata was closed Tuesday. The local education board has yet to issue any statement to the parents of its pupils.

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