Monday would have been Waraluck Supawatjariyakul’s 34th birthday. Her family spent it at her funeral.
“Dr. Kratai” died Friday when she was struck at a Bangkok pedestrian crossing by a hit-and-run driver of a luxury motorcycle who turned out to be a 21-year-old cop. He spent her birthday getting ordained as a monk.
Sadly, the tragic story is not unique. An average of more than two pedestrians a day die on Thailand’s streets, their 743 bodies last year joining the tens of thousands of motorists who also perish in a country with the sixth-worst road fatality rate in the world in 2019, behind only countries like Zimbabwe, the Congo and Venezuela.
Waraluck’s death has sparked new calls, from both the private and public sectors, for improved road safety.
“A crosswalk should be a spot where pedestrians feel safe to cross the street,” tweeted Miss Thailand Universe Anchilee Scott-Kemmis. “We, as motorists, need to have that awareness for pedestrians. My heart goes out to the doctor’s family. This shouldn’t have happened.”
Waraluck, 33, was hit crossing Phya Thai Road in front of Bhumirajanagarindra Kidney Institute Hospital on Jan. 21. CCTV footage showed a car roll through the crosswalk just behind her – slowly only slightly – before a red Ducati Monster hit her straight on at full speed, with no other vehicles to obstruct the driver’s view.
There was no outcry Friday, no police investigation, no video and no effort to find the coward who left his damaged bike on the street and flee on foot. Only when the young ophthalmologist’s family put out a call for help in identifying the driver was he identified Sunday as Pol. Lance Cpl. Norawit Buadok.
On Monday he was hit with seven charges, including reckless driving causing death, using a vehicle without a license plate, failing to keep his motorcycle in the left lane, failing to give way to someone using a pedestrian crossing, using a vehicle with unpaid tax, using a vehicle that lacked mirrors, and not having third-party vehicle insurance. His blood-alcohol test came back negative.
Police said Norawit confessed to the charges and was released on bail. He then went to Wat Phra Sri Mahathat in Bangkok’s Bang Khen District on Sunday to attend Waraluck’s funeral where he apologized to her family.
On Monday, joined by his father, Pol. Sub. Lt. Nikom Buadok, an officer at Pathumwan police station, the young crowd-control cop had his head shaved and was ordained as a monk at Wat Pariwat Ratchasongkram in Yannawa District.
Norawit said he did it to make merit for killing Waraluck. But it turns out he never told the abbot he was facing serious criminal charges. When abbot Suthit Yanawat found out, he told the cop to either leave the temple to be disrobed and thrown out.
Norawit will leave the monkhood on Wednesday, the day Waraluck is cremated.
Waraluck’s father, Anirut Supawatjariyakul, said he didn’t fault Norawit for becoming a monk, but declined to talk more to the press on the third day of her funeral. She will be cremated on Wednesday.
Waraluck was a staff ophthalmologist with Chulalongkorn University, coming to the university hospital after studying at Patumwan Demonstration School and Ramathibodi Hospital Medical School at Mahidol University and an eye surgery research unit at Chulalongkorn Hospital.
She loved cooking, Anirut said, and a birthday cake had been prepared in anticipation of a Monday celebration.
Her former classmates were among those who said the incident should bring about a reckoning with Thailand’s abysmal road-safety standards.
“I would push for the zebra crossings in Thailand to be practical ones where motorists really stop for pedestrians, just like in Japan,” Smith Srisont, who attended school with Waraluck, wrote online. “It should not be like this, destroying the future of someone good.”
Online, #DoctorKratai and #WhatGoodDoCopsDo trended over the weekend, with angry netizens questioning how a 21-year-old low-level cop had a 500,000-baht motorcycle and why his blood-alcohol tests weren’t released until the outcry. It is another example of Thailand’s entitled elite showing they can do what they want with impunity with help from a corrupt system that protects them, others complained.
Waraluck was one of 26 people killed and 1,711 injured on Thailand’s roads on Friday alone. More than three quarters of those deaths involved motorcycles.
“Give us a safe crosswalk. [We need] stricter laws, clearer signs and traffic lights, sufficient light, CCTV cameras, and strict enforcement of traffic laws imposed on both cars and motorcycles,” Ittaporn Kanacharoen, secretary-general of the Medical Council of Thailand, wrote online. “Please give us a pedestrian bridge or tunnels to protect everyone’s precious life.”
Bangkok gubernatorial candidate Chadchart Sittipunt, a former transport minister, agreed Japan would be a model to follow for Thailand. Crosswalks should be painted them with bright colors and “crosswalk cameras” installed that automatically mail tickets to drivers who speed through them.