A hit-and-run driver who left three children dead and 11 injured in her wake was found guilty yesterday but given a suspended sentence by Phnom Penh Municipal Court that will see her released in less than two weeks.
The year six medical student, 23-year-old Keam Piseth Narita, raised a nationwide outcry in March after ploughing into a motorbike in broad daylight on Norodom Boulevard, then speeding away – only to crash into a crowd gathered outside of the Ministry of Interior, killing three children and injuring 11 bystanders.
Though the court sentenced Piseth Narita to three years in prison and issued a fine of six million riel ($1,500) on charges of “driving causing death and serious injury”, the vast majority of the jail time would be suspended and reduced to time already served due to extenuating circumstances, presiding judge Kor Vandy said.
“Based on the hearing and the accused person’s confession, the court has found that Keam Piseth Narita has committed the offence as accused,” Vandy said. “But because she had meningitis and was on medication that made her drowsy – according the official letter from the doctors – the court decided to sentence her to three years in prison, but the real implementation of her punishment will only be three months and 15 days. The rest of the sentence was suspended, and a fine of six million riel will be put into the state’s budget.”
He added: “Keam Piseth Narita is prohibited from driving any kind of vehicle from now on.”
Piseth Narita declined to comment at yesterday’s hearing but expressed her regret during her June 6 trial, and promised to use her medical degree to improve the lives of others if released.
“I know about my mistake now. I am really very regretful about it,” she said at the time. “I would like to promise that if I am allowed to stay out of detention, I will study hard in order to complete my medical doctorate, and when I start my career, I will try my best to rescue or help the poor in my country.”
According to Judge Vandy, Narita’s father – Keam Piseth, the deputy director of Kandal Provincial Hospital – had paid compensation to all the families of the victims, all of whom had since withdrawn their complaints.
To some, however, the act of compensation is part of the problem.
“I think financial compensation has been used in criminal cases in a completely wrong way,” Cambodian Center for Human Rights president Ou Virak said, who noted that Piseth Narita was serving just one month for each life she took.
“I think the sentence is very, very light, although I feel she had no intention to kill,” he added.
However, according to Community Legal Education Center executive director Yeng Virak, the fact that the driver was tried and sentenced marked a major improvement on how such cases were typically handled.
And, though her sentence was suspended, he added, she had been awarded the maximum possible sentence for the crime.
“To me, it’s quite, quite fair,” Yeng Virak said. “If she commits the same thing in the future, she should be severely sentenced.”
Additional reporting by Sean Teehan