3 Uzbek friends killed in car crash

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3 Uzbek friends killed in car crash

They had come from Uzbekistan in search of fortune to send home. They were in their 30s and the breadwinners of their families, and on Sunday morning, their dreams came crashing down when a driver who had been drinking plowed into their motorcycle in Suncheon, South Jeolla.

The three men, all close friends from Uzbekistan, were instantly killed.

The men, whose names were not released by police, were 32, 33 and 36. They were riding together on a motorcycle at around 5 a.m. when a Hyundai Genesis driven by a 33-year-old man surnamed Kim came roaring behind them at an intersection in Daeryong-dong, Suncheon police said on Monday. The three men died on the spot.

They were each working at small companies in Suncheon, police said. The two older men worked at waste disposal companies, collecting and processing garbage from businesses and construction sites. The youngest painted parts at an electronic equipment factory.

The men often worked shifts of up to 12 hours a day, six days a week, according to their colleagues. They earned a monthly wage of less than 2 million won ($1,800), a meager sum considering the intense labor and long hours. They would generally send their income back to their families in Uzbekistan, colleagues said.

The oldest sorted waste at his company and would stand on his feet for 10 to 12 hours a day. “I am aware that he had a wife and child back home,” one of his colleagues said. “Aside from the minimal costs needed to live in Korea, he sent all the money back home.”

The youngest victim was in a similar situation, according to his colleagues, earning 1.5 million won a month and sending all he could back to his wife and child in Uzbekistan.

All three men came to Korea in 2017 on three-year work visas, police said. Because they spoke little English, they had difficulty communicating with co-workers and depended on each other for support, colleagues said. They lived in separate housing provided by their companies, but on weekends, they would ride on their motorcycle and talk about their families back home.

Police said the three were likely having one of their regular meet-ups on the day of the fateful accident.

The authorities booked Kim without detention after the accident. The driver testified that he did crash into the motorcycle, “but it seemed like another vehicle ran into the motorcycle afterward,” he told police.

According to police, after Kim ran into the motorcycle, the motorcycle crashed into a 1.5-meter (5-foot) guard rail. CCTV footage obtained by police confirmed that all three victims had been wearing helmets.

Law enforcement authorities confirmed that Kim had driven his vehicle after consuming alcohol. However, because his blood alcohol content was under 0.05 percent, he cannot be formally charged with driving under the influence. Authorities will be unable to suspend his license either.

The police are still investigating the incident, but they have reported the case to the Embassy of Uzbekistan in Seoul. The men’s bodies are at three different hospitals in Suncheon.

“The three young men from Uzbekistan who died together seemed closer to one another than anyone else in Korea,” a Suncheon police officer said. “We will conduct a thorough investigation and autopsy to confirm the exact details of the accident and bring justice.”

BY KIM HO, KIM JUN-HEE, SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]
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