By Lee Scott
When we arrived at the police station, the minivan’s owner had gone out to have dinner. They called him and asked him to come back as soon as he could. When he came in, I was a little disappointed that I didn’t recognize him. He was the owner of the vehicle but not the driver. The minivan was used for his business (Chinese imports). When I found out he could speak Mandarin, he and I were able to converse much more freely (I speak Mandarin much better than Korean). He was telling me a little about his business and kept apologizing over and over for the situation. I told him that of course he needn’t apologize since he hadn’t been driving, nor had he even known that his employees were mis-using his vehicle. One of the other police sergeants in the office scolded him about the siren and PA system. Apparently he had the appropriate permits for both, but the two young men who were the culprits had been mis-using them as well. “Make sure it doesn’t happen again,” the cop told the man.
As my wife and I sat down to file our official report, I glanced at the police sergeant’s desk and saw the driver’s license of a young guy who looked like the driver of the minivan when it hit me. “Ahh…that’s the guy who was driving,” I said to my wife. The sergeant heard me and looked up sharply. “Did he say that THIS is the driver?” he asked my wife and held up the license. I said, “yes, that looks like the guy.” The sergeant’s face went red. “This guy said he was in the passenger seat and another person was driving. This man’s license is actually already suspended. Are you CERTAIN that you saw this man driving the vehicle?” I said that I couldn’t be 100% sure, but it certainly looked similar to the person I saw driving; same thin face, same dark complexion, a thin
moustache. The only thing that looked a bit different was his hair style. A few minutes later, that young man came in.
“This is him?” the sergeant asked me. Looking at the guy standing there, with just a slightly abashed look on his face, I couldn’t say for sure. The sergeant was pushing me to identify him but I said “I can’t be totally sure, but I can guarantee you that the other guy was in the passenger seat and I can ID him no problem.” I then gave a complete description of the passenger which fit the description of the alleged driver. The sergeant started shouting at the youth, trying to get him to confess. The sergeant then turned to me and asked me if I was sure that I couldn’t identify this young man as the driver. I told him that I could not honestly say it was him. I just couldn’t.
The sergeant sat back down and looked over his notes. “Who is [name omitted]?” I said to my wife that I thought that must be another street vendor who had seen the whole incident. When the police had come, he gave his name and number to them and said he would be happy to provide them with corroboration since he had seen the entire thing. The sergeant called him on his mobile phone. My kebab truck friend had said that he thought the guy wouldn’t talk since it might make trouble for his business. My friend was wrong. The vendor told the sergeant every detail that he had seen, including the fact that I was holding my phone in my right hand and a kebab in my left hand and that the kebab had gone flying through the air when I was struck by the minivan. He also gave a perfectly detailed description of the driver, and it matched the guy who was sitting there in front of the sergeant’s desk. The sergeant asked if the vendor had seen the passenger. He had and he described him exactly as I had (fat, black rim glasses, faux-hawk hairstyle, black blazer and white t-shirt). The driver/would-be passenger sank lower and lower into his seat as the sergeant repeated everything the witness said over the phone. There was no more vaguely abashed look on his face, it was guilt now. He had been caught.
The only thing left to be done now was fill out all the official reports. The police would also need an official diagnosis report from an orthopedic hospital. The insurance company of the van’s owner would provide me with an access number where I could seek treatment at their expense. As the sergeant was filling in the final forms, he asked me, “Do you think that you were a little bit at fault?” I looked at him and said “I think I know why you are asking me that, so I’ll tell you — I wish I had moved faster to get out of the way.” He just laughed.
Then he asked me whether I wanted the young man to go to jail. I told him that I didn’t want anyone to go to jail, but that I didn’t think that was up to me or not. “Sometimes people do stuff and they have to go to jail.” I guess he was satisfied with that answer, too. He asked me why did I even get involved like that. I told them that when I saw the minivan charging at the groups of young people on the street so recklessly, like it was just a big joke, and the laughter and imprecations being hurled over the P.A., I just got so angry. I am a father and I thought about how in 18 or 19 years it could be my daughter out trying to have fun with her friends, only to be harrassed and even endangered in this way, and I just got mad. As I was telling this to the police and the vehicle owner and my wife, my voice was kind of caught up. I was feeling that same anger again. I told the youth that I hoped he understood now that what he had done was so reckless and thoughtless. I said that I was so thankful that I had been the person hit and that nobody else had had to be hurt. He just looked smaller and smaller. I didn’t actually hold out much hope that anything I was saying to him would actually penetrate his 20-year-old brain (my wife’s excellent translating notwithstanding).
A few days later, my wife got a call from the boy’s mother. She begged her to talk to me and ask me to reconsider taking a private payment in lieu of official action. My wife is also a mother and this lady got to her. We agreed to accept a payoff and then the charges would be dropped. Justice had been served, Korean-style. Rather than courts and judges and lawyers, coffee shops and ATMs and white envelopes would prevail this time.