Calls for tough punishment for teens involved in hit-and-runPublic momentum is growing in support of stronger punishment for a group of minors accused of killing a college student while driving a stolen rental car.
In Daejeon on March 29, a 13-year-old drove a car into a motorcycle, severely injuring its 18-year-old driver. Seven other passengers — all minors — were in the car, which had been stolen by the teens off a street in Seoul a day earlier, police said.
The victim, a college student who was working part time to pay off his university tuition, died shortly after being transferred to a local hospital.
According to authorities, the teens driving the car were trying to evade the police when they caused the accident.
After hitting the motorcycle, they drove further a dozen meters before they stopped and abandoned the car on the side of a road and fled.
Six of the eight teens were apprehended in the vicinity, but the driver fled back to Seoul, where he was later arrested.
The law in Korea forbids criminal prosecution for minors under the age of 14 who commit a crime.
The maximum punishment such youths can receive includes mandatory community service or a brief incarceration at a youth detention center.
After the case made headlines last week, the victim’s girlfriend posted a petition on the website of Korea’s presidential office, the Blue House, calling for the teens to be punished severely for the hit-and-run.
As of Monday, the petition garnered more than 870,000 signatures, testifying to the massive public outrage.
“The police say the teens cannot be punished and will instead be placed under protective custody,” the petition read.
“But this is a terrible crime committed by the teens in which a person died. Please punish the perpetrating youths for the victim’s family and so that such an incident does not repeat itself.”
The case comes at a time in Korea where controversy rages over the alleged involvement of minors in operating a massive online pornography ring that enslaved dozens of women and young girls.
The laws pertaining to crimes by minors has been subject to continuing controversy in Korea, flaring up every time such incidents occur.
Last year, a group of middle school students severely beat up an elementary student but were only placed on protective custody.
The public fury surrounding last month’s hit-and-run case was galvanized even further because of the unapologetic response from the teen suspects, who took to social media to proclaim they had done nothing wrong following the accident.
One teen even went so far as to take pride in his actions, writing he hit “fast and furious” at 200 kilometers (124 miles) per hour.
The victim’s girlfriend hit back on Facebook, saying the teens were wallowing in relief because they know they cannot be punished under Korean law.
“The premise behind the law is that still immature youths are liable to make mistakes and should not be punished in ways that can affect their future,” she wrote.
“But can we really say that a group of teens who killed a person and ran away can be considered just immature?”
BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [firstname.lastname@example.org]
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