A Taiwanese court released on bail a construction site manager whose truck authorities say caused a train accident that killed at least 50 people. Prosecutors have said they will appeal the decision.
The Taroko Express was carrying nearly 500 people down the island’s east coast on Friday, the first day of a religious festival when families gather to honor their ancestors, when it crashed into a tunnel outside the city of Hualien. .
Prosecutors had asked a court to detain the manager on charges of causing the wrongful death, a Justice Ministry official said on Saturday.
But a Hualien court released the manager, Lee Yi-hsiang, on bail of Taiwanese $ 500,000 (£ 12,600), although it prevented him from leaving Taiwan for eight months and said he had to stay in Hualien.
The court said that while the truck fell into the path of the train possibly due to negligence, there was “no possibility of conspiracy.”
Yu Hsiu-duan, the head of the Hualien prosecutor’s office, said he would appeal the bail decision.
“The court said there was no reason to keep him in custody,” he told reporters. “The court changed it for a bail of 500,000 [Taiwan dollars]. “
Lee’s court-appointed attorney declined to comment with reporters when he left court.
Police believe the train collided with a truck that had slid down an embankment from a maintenance work site to the tracks. The front carriages of the train derailed and crowded into the tunnel, flattened against the walls, splitting and tearing apart.
Dozens of people were killed, including the 33-year-old train conductor and an assistant conductor. Authorities also confirmed the death of a six-year-old girl, a French citizen and a US citizen. More than 70 people were trapped inside for hours, while other survivors smashed windows and crawled across the roof of the train to escape.
The truck driver was not in it at the time it slipped and police suspected it had been “improperly parked.”
On Saturday, workers began moving the rear of the train, which was relatively unscathed as it had stopped outside the tunnel away from the crash site.
However, other shattered sections remained in the tunnel, where a fire department official, Wu Liang-yun, said more bodies were likely to be found. “We are still carrying out rescue work,” he added.
Around 150 people were injured in the accident and 48 people were pronounced dead at the scene. Two of the injured later died in hospital. As of Saturday morning, 40 people remained in the hospital, including four in intensive care. Two people from Japan, two from Australia and one from Macau were confirmed among those who had suffered minor injuries. Authorities said on Saturday that 496 people had been on board, including four railway employees, 372 seated passengers and 120 standing passengers.
Authorities warned that the death toll could still rise, because parts of the body have not yet been properly identified. A rescuer at the crash site also said they were unsure if there might still be more bodies in the wrecked cars trapped inside the tunnel. On Saturday, the Foreign Ministry said that a US citizen, who was accompanying the murdered, was still missing.
A Red Cross rescuer told local media that the scene upon his arrival was “like a living hell” and suggested that several children were among the dead.
“The chairs were smashed, the objects were scattered all over the floor and there was blood everywhere,” Lin Chi-feng told CNA. “It was heartbreaking to see so many children and babies die in the accident.”
All the survivors were freed from the rubble on Friday afternoon, and rescue crews began clearing the rear wagons from the track on Saturday, but the damaged wagons remained trapped inside the tunnel. Rail authorities said it would take another week to clean up the site and resume services.
The Taiwanese government ordered all flags to be lowered to half-staff for three days, to honor the victim of the worst rail disaster to hit the island in decades. President Tsai Ing-wen visited the survivors at the hospital on Saturday.
“This heartbreaking accident resulted in many injuries and deaths. I came to Hualien today to visit the injured and express my condolences to the families of the deceased passengers, ”Tsai said. “We will surely help them later.”
Tsai said on Friday that he had asked the transportation safety committee to carry out a strict investigation.
Transport Minister Lin Chia-lung said repairs will be accelerated. “When something like this happens, I am very sorry and will take full responsibility,” Lin said after touring the site.