All airmen restricted to Kunsan after attack
PYEONGTAEK, South Korea — Kunsan Air Base’s commander restricted all airmen to the base Monday after two Air Force police officers and a third American allegedly pummeled a local cab driver and tried to make off with his car early that morning.
Col. Jeffrey Lofgren, 8th Fighter Wing commander, also pledged a “thorough investigation” and “appropriate action” against those involved in the assault, according to a news release.
The 48-year-old driver, identified only by his surname of Lee, was treated for bruises at a hospital and released after the 1:30 a.m. attack in Kunsan City, South Korean police told Stars and Stripes.
Police said two of the suspects are two members of Kunsan’s 8th Security Forces squadron. The third American is a 23-year-old of Korean descent who works at a GNC health products store on base, police said.
The three are in Air Force custody at Kunsan Air Base, wing spokesman Capt. James P. Lage said.
“We are fully cooperating, meaning we’ll make these individuals available” to Korean police for questioning, he said.
Lage said the restriction is until further notice and applies only to active-duty wing members.
“Airmen who have submitted leave requests are still going to be permitted to go on their respective leaves,” Lage said.
He said he could not immediately elaborate on why Lofgren imposed the restriction.
According to police, the three men got into the taxi in Kunsan and asked to be driven to a night club in Jeonju City.
About 20 minutes later, while stopped near an apartment complex, one of the airmen in the back seat allegedly began choking the driver, who also was punched repeatedly, police said.
The attempted auto theft was foiled when one of the airmen tried to re-start the cab’s engine with the transmission in drive instead of park, Kunsan police said.
They then fled on foot, police said.
Apartment complex residents phoned police, who searched the area based on descriptions from witnesses.
Police said they found in the cab a T-shirt allegedly belonging to the GNS employee with the name “Paul” stitched on it. They said they later found him in a bar in Kunsan, questioned him, and turned him over to the Air Force.
It could not be readily learned Monday how police identified the two airmen as suspects.
Lofgren on Monday phoned his “heartfelt apologies” to Kunsan city Mayor Moon Dong-shin and Korean National Police superintendent Kim Jong-kil, the release said. Afterward, Lofgren visited the cab driver at Kunsan Medical Center and apologized to him.
“Behavior of this kind is absolutely not tolerated at the 8th Fighter Wing,” Lofgren said in the release. “Actions such as these have a negative (effect) on the tremendous relationship we share with our South Korean friends and neighbors.”
Hwang Hae-rym contributed to this report.