UPDATE: This story has been amended to reflect a clarification from defence counsel Gregory Fong.
While driving along the Pan-Island Expressway (PIE), an Uber driver had to endure the passenger seated beside her repeatedly touching her.
Png Kok Tai, 49, put the 41-year-old female driver through an ordeal lasting nearly 15 minutes as she struggled to defend herself from his advances while maintaining focus on driving.
On Monday (5 November), Png, a Singaporean, was sentenced to five years, 10 months and three weeks’ jail on an array of offences including the molest.
The offences include drug consumption and using abusive language on police officers. The unemployed man also stole from his father’s maid.
Png pleaded guilty to two counts of molest, one count of theft, one count of disorderly behaviour, one count of consuming drugs, one count of voluntarily causing hurt and one count of using abusive language on police officers.
Png will also be given four strokes of the cane four for his molest and drug consumption charges.
Other charges, including insulting the modesty of the Uber driver by using insulting words on her, and using abusive words on a Central Narcotics Bureau officer, were taken into consideration for sentencing.
The facts of the case
On 16 December last year, the Uber driver picked Png up from Jurong West Street at about 6.18pm. After she dropped him off at Mei Ling Street, Png asked the woman to wait for him for a return trip. The two were proceeding back to Jurong at 7.14pm when the offences happened.
While on the PIE, Png offered to buy durian for the driver but was rejected. He then offered the woman money to go to a hotel with her. The woman rejected him again.
About ten minutes into the journey, Png then touched the woman’s breasts before rubbing her thigh.
Despite the woman’s pleas for him to stop, Png molested her again five minutes later, touching her on different parts of her body for some six minutes.
Though shocked and outraged, the woman had to keep driving while struggling to defend herself. After dropping Png off, the woman made a police report.
In separate incidents earlier this year, Png molested an 18-year-old woman in July as she was walking at the bottom of a block, and also consumed methamphetamine.
Png, who has a history of drug and property-related offences, tested positive for the drug in March after reporting to the police to assist with investigations.
Ten days after reporting to the police, Png stole $1,200 from his father’s Indonesian domestic helper. He ransacked her bedroom in search of money after both his father and the maid had refused to give him any.
And about a month after the theft incident, Png assaulted a 41-year-old man at a pavilion along Bukit Merah View. During the scuffle, Png pinned the man to the ground and repeatedly punched his face. No reason was given for the confrontation.
After police officers arrived on scene, Png became uncooperative and used expletives on the officers.
For the various offences, the prosecution sought a combined sentence of at least five years and 11 months.
“He took advantage of (the Uber driver’s) weakness. She was clearly vulnerable as her attention was concentrated on roads,” said Deputy Public Prosecutor Marshall Lim, who added that the incident was protracted and placed the two in a dangerous situation.
When asked by District Judge Marvin Bay if this was the first case of a driver being molested by a passenger, DPP Lim replied that it was the first he had encountered.
Gregory Fong, Png’s Criminal Legal Aid Scheme lawyer, acknowledged that while the situation was dangerous, the woman could have exited through a small road and not driven Png all the way if she was “sufficiently annoyed”.
However, the prosecution rebutted that it was unfair to impose assumptions on the way molest victims would react.
Fong added in mitigation that his client was a handicap who had his leg and part of his torso amputated from an operation related to a blood clot from drug use. Png is currently using a prosthetic leg. The lawyer submitted that his client’s medical condition might make him unsuitable for caning and asked for five and a half to six years’ jail.
“Something triggered him. It could be his handicap and financial position that makes him a miserable and resentful person,” said the defence lawyer.
In sentencing Png, DJ Bay noted that previous cases of Uber or Grab drivers molesting passengers were widely covered by the media.
“(Png’s) continuous molesting while (the woman) was driving presents a hazardous twist to these ugly situations,” said the judge.
“(Png’s) acts are not merely grossly intrusive, they created a dangerous state of affairs by distraction and agitation that his unwanted advances could have imposed on the hapless female driver.”
“I understand you have medical challenges (but) you cannot run afoul of the law just because you are frustrated,” DJ Bay told Png at the end of the hearing.
Png’s suitability for caning will be assessed by a prison doctor. His case will be reviewed if he is found unsuitable for caning.
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