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Driver of van that broke through ice killing four was heavily drunk

Police photo of a diver at the edge of the ice at the scene of the incident on Tuesday. Feb. 6, 2018.
Police photo of a diver at the edge of the ice at the scene of the incident on Tuesday. Feb. 6, 2018. Source: (PPA)

An investigation looking into the circumstances of an accident that killed four in February this year when a van broke through the sea ice just off Munalaid Harbor has established that the driver was drunk. Since the driver was among the four victims, nobody will be charged.

The police has closed the investigation. "What happened is an extreme example of how unpredictable and dangerous a drunk person at the wheel of a motor vehicle can be. This is an accident that should never have happened," prosecutor Merry Tiitus said.

The investigation established that on Feb. 6 this year, a group of six spent time together at a place in Pärnu County. All of the people in the group drank and were aware of the fact that the others had consumed alcohol as well.

They decided to move on to the island of Kihnu. A 28-year-old man got behind the wheel of the Opel Vivaro van that later broke through the ice.

Apart from the driver two other men aged 47 and 54 sat in the front. Three more, a 41-year-old man, a 51-year-old woman, and a 60-year-old man, were in the back of the cargo van, where there were no seats for passengers.

The van reched Munalaid Harbor at around noon and first drove onto the Kihnu ferry. But since the ferry's scheduled departure was still several hours away, a member of the ferry's crew asked the driver to turn around and get back off the boat.

Following this, the driver moved the van off the ferry and proceeded to drive onto the sea ice at a spot where there was no safe ice road indicated. He headed towards the island.

Roughly 500 meters away from the shore the front part of the van broke through the ice, and the vehicle sank within a couple of minutes.

The investigation showed that all of the van's doors were locked. The younger of the two men in the back managed to break one of the van's rear windows, which allowed all three of the passengers in the back to get out.

The men in the driver and passenger seats in the van's front didn't make it out of the vehicle and drowned.

An employee of the harbor witnessed the accident and alerted a hovercraft operator in the area. The hovercraft was able to get to the 41-year-old man and the 51-year-old woman who had made it onto the ice. The body of the third passenger who had managed to get out of the back of the van was recovered by volunteer rescuers on Feb. 15, nine days after the accident.

The bodies of the three men in the vehicle's front seat were recovered in a police operation the same evening.

A forensic examination established that the man who drove the vehicle was criminally drunk at the time of the accident. Blood samples taken from all the passengers, including the bodies of the victims recovered from the water, showed that the whole group was drunk.

Editor: Dario Cavegn

Source: BNS

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