The deadly crash that killed four South Koreans and involved a Korean SUV and a U.S. military vehicle is not expected to draw much of an Anti-American response. While U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) has temporarily suspended training on the nearby range located near the border with North Korea and has pledged to help South Korean authorities with the investigation, it appears that the South Korean authorities are focusing on the Korean driver.
Local police and fire officials said the Korean SUV carrying four civilians rear-ended the American M577 Armored Command Vehicle belonging to the combined U.S./ROK 2nd Infantry Division at approximately 9:30 p.m. Sunday. The incident happened about 5 km outside of the Rodriguez Live Fire Complex in the city of Pocheon.
All four civilians in the SUV, two couples in their 50s, were pronounced dead at a local hospital, a Korean official said. The two U.S. soldiers in the military vehicle were not seriously injured. In a statement from the U.S. 2nd Infantry Division, the two soldiers “were evaluated and returned to duty.”
Korean police are asking for an autopsy of the driver. They are investigating whether the crash had anything to do with the drivers of the SUV switching just minutes before the accident.
Korean fire department photos from the scene show that the SUV’s front end was mangled, with the front right side pushed into the passenger compartment. The M577 APC showed lesser but still heavy damage to the rear with the right track appearing damaged which coincides with the damage done to the SUV.
“USFK is aware of the fatal accident near the Rodriguez Live Fire Complex,” the command said in the statement. “Out of respect to those killed and their families, the Eighth Army is temporarily suspending training in the area.”
South Korea’s Defense Ministry also expressed condolences. It promised to work with USFK and other relevant organizations to make sure “follow-up measures are able to be properly implemented in accordance with the results of the investigation into the accident.”
The reaction from the Korean side is in sharp contrast to the 2002 accident involving U.S. soldiers and in which two teenaged Korean girls were killed. In that incident, a U.S. military convoy from the 2nd Infantry Division was en route to a training exercise at a range approximately 12 miles north of Seoul. As the convoy passed along a narrow country road near Yangju City, Gyeonggi Province, one of the convoy’s armored vehicles, an M-60 armored vehicle-launched bridge weighing approximately 57 tons, struck and killed two 14-year-old South Korean schoolgirls, Shim Mi-son and Shin Hyo-sun. The girls were walking along the side of the roadway on their way to a birthday party.
The two sergeants in the vehicle were charged by a military court-martial for negligent homicide under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). Korean authorities, under intense pressure from large demonstrations, moved to have the soldiers tried in a Korean court. But under the Status of Forces agreement, the U.S. retains jurisdiction over U.S. troops when they perform official duties. Thus, the military judge denied the Korean request.
The soldiers were cleared and found not guilty of any charges which drew protests from the Korean Justice Ministry. The verdict also sparked widespread demonstrations — the largest Anti-American demonstrations at the time. One such demonstration in Seoul in December 2002, drew over 50,000 people. Korean civilians also fire-bombed garrisons at Yongsan and targeted Korean and U.S. soldiers guarding American bases. In one incident, an American officer was stabbed outside of a base.
However, recent polls in Korea show that public support for the alliance with the U.S. is much stronger than it used to be. This is despite recent disputes over defense cost-sharing and how to deal with North Korea‘s saber-rattling. It was reported that 92 percent of Koreans approve of their long alliance with the U.S.