Driver who left 3-year-old girl locked in van for an hour jailed

Wan Ting Koh
·5 min read
Zulkahnai Haron, 47, left the girl restrained by a safety strap inside the van for about an hour while it was parked a multi-storey carpark. (Yahoo News Singapore file photo)
Zulkahnai Haron, 47, left the girl restrained by a safety strap inside the van for about an hour while it was parked a multi-storey carpark. (Yahoo News Singapore file photo)

SINGAPORE — Upset that his supervisor did not give him extra allowance for ferrying additional students to school, a former school bus driver left a three-year-old girl locked in a van while he went shopping for groceries.

Zulkahnai Haron, 47, left the girl restrained by a safety belt inside the van without ventilation for about an hour while it was parked a multi-storey carpark.

She was rescued when two passersby heard her cries and called Zulkahnai back to the van. The victim, who cannot be named due to her age, suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder due to the incident.

On Wednesday (6 January), Zulkahnai was jailed 10 months and fined $3,000 after he pleaded guilty to one count of causing unnecessary suffering – a new limb under the Children and Young Persons Act – and one count under the Road Traffic Act for reckless or dangerous driving when he beat a red light. He was also given a driving ban for a year over the second charge.

Pay dispute

Zulkahnai, who now works as a security guard, was then employed as a driver at a transport services company and was tasked to transport students to and from school with a mini-van. He had a 72-year-old female bus attendant to assist him.

On 20 January last year, he reported to work as usual and dropped students off at their schools at about 6am. His supervisor later instructed him to ferry additional students to school.

Zulkahnai did so and asked his supervisor whether he would receive extra allowance for the work. His supervisor did not give him a satisfactory answer.

Feeling upset, he asked his female attendant to leave the bus – which was against company policy as attendants are supposed to leave their vehicles only after all the students have disembarked. At the time, the three-year-old victim was still aboard the van.

Instead of ferrying the girl to school, Zulkahnai drove home. He arrived at a multi-storey carpark at about 9am and parked his van. He then left the girl in the van and locked it before going to buy groceries and food nearby.

At about 10am, a couple walking by the van heard a voice from inside saying “Hello, hello”. The woman spotted the victim, who was sobbing and calling for her mother.

The woman’s husband then called Zulkahnai, whose phone number was on a display board in the vehicle. The woman also took a photo of the victim.

When Zulkahnai showed up, the woman scolded him. Zulkahnai, however, said there was nothing to worry about and claimed that he had been gone for only a few minutes.

Zulkahnai then said he would ferry the victim to school, but the woman tagged along as she was concerned for the girl’s safety. The woman later told a teacher at the school what happened.

In his police statement, Zulkahnai said that he had left the victim unattended for about 30 minutes to return home to change. He claimed that he had a stomach ache and had inadvertently soiled his pants.

He maintained this version of events until he was presented with CCTV footage of himself in a supermarket. Zulkahnai eventually admitted to leaving the victim in the van as he was upset that he did not get more allowance.

For half a year after the incident, the traumatised victim was afraid to be alone and could not sleep without her mother. She also feared taking the school bus as she did not want to be left alone in a vehicle again.

Separately, Zulkahnai beat a red light along Simei Road around 2.05pm on 10 April last year, causing a motorcyclist, who had the right of way to brake and fall off his motorcycle while making a right turn.

Zulkahnai noticed that the victim had fallen off and made a U-turn to check on him. The victim sustained bruises and tenderness over his body due to the incident.

‘Egregious breach of trust’

Deputy Public Prosecutors Yang Ziliang and Colin Ng sought a sentence of at least a year’s jail and a fine of $3,000, along with a year of disqualification from driving, for Zulkahnai.

The prosecution cited the psychological harm caused to the three-year-old victim and how Zulkahnai had breached the trust reposed in him as aggravating factors.

“There was an egregious breach of trust. The accused was entrusted to fetch the victim to her school. However, he abdicated his responsibility and had taken out his frustration over his salary issues on the young and defenceless victim,” DPP Yang told the court.

In reply, Zulkahnai’s lawyer Sofia Bennita Mohamed Bakhash said that the child’s mother might have inflated the hurt or trauma her daughter suffered as there was no other follow-up treatment.

She said her client was also having difficulty focusing due to his financial difficulties and has since changed his line of work to stay off roads.

She added that a jail term would negatively affect his family, including his two children aged 17 and 18, who rely heavily on him.

Responding to the defence counsel, DPP Yang said there was no basis to impugn the credibility of the psychiatrist or cast aspersions on the victim’s mother.

In sentencing Zulkahnai, District Judge Marvin Bay said that Zulkahnai had left a vulnerable victim in a potentially dangerous situation, without attendance and ventilation.

The three-year-old child could have suffered from oxygen deprivation, heat stress or physical injuries from struggling with the seatbelt.

“You are a parent of two teenage children and should have known better,” said the judge.

For ill treating the child, Zulkahnai could have been jailed up to eight years, fined up to $8,000, or both. For causing hurt through reckless driving, he could have been jailed up to two years, fined up to $10,000, or both.

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