Bus driver who drank vodka at the wheel jailed in Singapore
SINGAPORE, July 21 — In an unprecedented case, a drunk SBS Transit bus driver who continued to sip vodka while ferrying a busload of passengers was yesterday sentenced to 15 months’ jail and fined S$1,000 (RM3,141).
Nagibullah Raja Saleem, 27, was also disqualified from driving for 10 years. Nagibullah, who has been sacked by SBS Transit, was convicted last month of three charges of drink-driving, rash driving and using his mobile phone while operating bus service 162 on June 29 last year.
In sentencing, District Judge Kenneth Yap chided Nagibullah for his “highly irresponsible and reckless” behaviour, given that passengers on the bus had entrusted their lives to him.
Adding that a stern sentence was warranted in this case, the judge said it was “purely fortuitous” that there were no damages and no one was injured.
Noting that Nagibullah broke nearly every rule in the book, the judge described the closed-circuit television camera footage from the bus — which was shown in court — of him driving that day as “surreal”, like a scene out of “an action movie or video game”.
In a drunken stupor, he drove the bus around the Central Business District, on the Central Expressway (CTE) and through the heartland estates of Bishan, Sin Ming, Marymount and Upper Thomson.
The CCTV footage had shown Nagibullah driving rashly between 4.15pm and 6.15pm, including failing to give way to oncoming traffic as he made a right turn to Anson Road and nearly collided with an unknown motor car.
He beat six red lights, swerved left and right on three occasions, drove against the flow of traffic on two occasions, nodded off at the wheel and nearly collided with other vehicles and road barriers.
He also ignored passengers’ shouts at him.
The footage also captured him drinking from a 330ml bottle of blackcurrant vodka, wrapped in a plastic bag, six times.
According to court documents, he was so intoxicated that his alcohol level was assessed to be 2.4 times the legal limit more than four hours after he finished his shift.
Nagibullah’s lawyer Richard Siaw told the court that his client was having relationship problems.
SBS Transit had told the media that Nagibullah “had declared and was checked to be fit enough to drive for the day when he started his shift in the morning”.
However, he consumed alcohol before he was due to start his 3.30pm shift.
Siaw said Nagibullah, who is married, had lunch with his ex-girlfriend that day and they got into a heated argument.
He had broken up with her after his parents arranged for him to marry someone else. When they met up, she wanted him to leave his wife and threatened to kill herself.
A “temporary lapse of judgement” caused him to commit the offences, said the lawyer.
He also noted that Nagibullah, who was with SBS Transit for nine months before the incident, had been the bus operator’s “poster boy”.
Pictures of him were plastered on their buses, and he was chosen to represent the operator in a publicity video for bus drivers.
Siaw also pointed out that the chances of Nagibullah re-offending was low, since no public transport operator would likely employ him after the incident.
But deputy public prosecutor Parvathi Menon argued that personal hardships should not be of much mitigating value in sentencing.
She noted that the case was of “unprecedented gravity”: Nagibullah did not just drink and drive. On no less than six occasions, he drank while driving.
His actions were dangerous, given how he was driving a heavy vehicle and ferrying passengers over 21km, said Menon.
“It is nothing short of miraculous that there were no accidents resulting in loss of life, injuries and/or property damage. This does not detract from the extremely high degree of potential harm that resulted from the accused’s actions,” she added.
Stressing the need for deterrence, the judge said the most aggravating factor was the fact that Nagibullah — who will start his sentence on August 1 — did not stop driving even though passengers shouted and other road users honked at him.
On Nagibullah’s personal problems, Yap said he should have asked to be excused from his driving duties that day.
The troubles that Nagibullah had were no excuse to put other people’s lives at risk, the judge added.
SBS Transit had apologised for the incident, and said it has stepped up measures to avoid a repeat. — TODAY