The dashcam video is jaw-dropping: On a virtually empty stretch of highway, a midsize car is seen traveling in the slow lane. Suddenly, a black Mercedes-Benz zooms into the frame and rear-ends the car at tremendous speed. Within a split second, a cloud of smoke and debris fills the video screen.
What happened next is now well known in Thailand and the focal point of growing outrage. The midsize car burst into flames and the couple inside, both graduate students in their 30s, died at the scene of the accident. The Mercedes driver, the son of a wealthy Thai businessman, survived with minor injuries and refused both alcohol and drug tests — and his wishes were respected. Police say he was driving at an estimated 240 kilometers (150 miles) per hour.
Since the video was widely shared on social media last week, the fatal March 15 crash has reignited a debate about the impunity of the rich and well-connected in Thailand who tend to get away with murder. A similar debate raged in the US with the case of the Texas teenager who used an “affluenza” defense in a deadly drunken-driving wreck.
The Mercedes driver, Janepob Verraporn, 37, now tops a list of “Bangkok’s deadly rich kids,” as one Thai newspaper calls the children of privilege who have killed with their fancy cars. TV talk shows, social media forums and editorials have chimed in on a debate that asks whether justice will be served this time or — if history is any guide — if Janepob will walk away from the crime without serving time.
Police have rushed to defend themselves against criticism for initially mishandling the case and acting to shield Janepob, whose father owns a luxury car import company. “The law is the law — whether you are rich or poor, you have to pay for what you’ve done,” national police spokesman Songpol Wattanachai said Monday, asking skeptics to have faith in the police. “Justice will be served. Just because he is rich doesn’t mean he won’t go to jail. I’m asking people not to think that way.”