Army NCO changes story in BB gun shooting incident in Korea
South Korean police wait for a bus in front of an Itaewon subway station exit and the Hamilton Hotel on March 6, 2013, in the area where at least one U.S. soldier allegedly shot a BB gun from a car, triggering a police chase that culminated with another soldier being shot by a South Korean police officer.
SEOUL — A U.S. Army staff sergeant involved in a recent toy gun incident in South Korea has changed portions of his story, and has now told police that he also fired a BB gun at passers-by, South Korean officials said Monday.
The staff sergeant was one of three soldiers involved in the March 2 incident in Itaewon that ended with a U.S. soldier being shot by South Korean police.
The head detective of the Yongsan Police Station said during a press briefing that the staff sergeant’s attorney contacted authorities on Saturday and told them the soldier wanted to give a voluntary statement.
According to police, the staff sergeant initially said he did not fire the BB gun and that he was not the only person driving the car involved in the incident. However, during several hours of questioning on Monday afternoon, the soldier changed those parts of his statement, the head detective said.
The incident began on March 2 when police received an emergency call at 11:53 p.m. from a South Korean man who claimed that foreigners were shooting at him in front of the Hamilton Hotel, located in the heart of a busy entertainment district outside U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan. Authorities arrived and tried to stop three 8th Army soldiers from driving away, but a high-speed chase ensured, and an officer shot one soldier, a private first class, in the upper body after the driver struck the police officer with his car.
A corporal who was in the car told Yongsan police last week that she fired a BB gun out of the car window three or four times “for fun.”
The staff sergeant also admitted Monday that he lied to police last week when he told them he was initially driving the car and turned the wheel over to the private because glass from a broken window fell in his eyes. The head detective said police never believed his initial story because the car was traveling at speeds of up to about 99 to 105 miles per hour and never stopped during the chase, which lasted less than 10 minutes and covered a 7.5-mile route from Itaewon to Gwanjingu in eastern Seoul.
The head detective said police don’t know whether all three soldiers shot BB guns, but police do believe the gun or guns were aimed at civilians. If the soldiers did target people, they could face charges of assault, along with charges of obstructing government officials on duty and traffic violations, he said.
Police do not know when or where the soldiers purchased the guns, he said.
South Korean police last week took the unusual step of questioning the private on base because he was hospitalized. Eighth Army spokesman Col. Andrew Mutter said Monday that the soldier remains in stable condition at Yongsan’s Brian Allgood Community Hospital.
The head detective said Monday that Yongsan police hope to finish their investigation “soon,” though he did not give a specific date. He said officials were looking at all possibilities regarding prosecution, including that no charges will be filed.