Pacific edition, Wednesday, May 9, 2007

SEOUL — A nude U.S. soldier was struck and killed by an off-base taxi Saturday night, officials said Monday.

U.S. and South Korean officials are investigating the incident in which Spc. Vang B. Her, a 22-year-old fire control repairman with Company B, 302nd Brigade Support Battalion, was killed around 10:30 p.m. near Mount Soyo, about 3 miles north of Camp Casey.

The 46-year-old taxi driver is being held in South Korean police custody because he waited about 30 minutes before reporting the incident, Yangju police said Monday.

Police said the driver reported that a naked soldier dashed in front of his taxi and that he was unable to stop before hitting him.

Witnesses, however, gave conflicting reports that Her was lying in the roadway when hit, according to police.

A man who identified himself as an executive director with the Joenggok Taxi Company identified the driver as Kim Jong-gyu.

“He is a very sincere, honest and hard-working taxi driver who has been working for many years,” the executive said. “We just see him as a very unlucky man.”

He said Kim will lose his license whether he’s guilty of a crime or not.

Police said they discovered the soldier’s civilian clothing near the accident scene and they had no idea why he was naked at the time of the incident.

“The investigation is ongoing and not a lot has been stated about the accident,” Maj. Kimeisha McCullum wrote in an e-mail statement on Monday. The Criminal Investigation Command “is conducting a joint investigation with the (Korean police) to determine exactly what happened.”

A memorial service for Her was to be held 11 a.m. Tuesday at Camp Casey’s Schoonover Bowl.

“All those who serve in Warrior Country are saddened by the death of this young soldier,” acting 2nd ID commander Brig. Gen. Tom Landwermeyer said in a news release. “Our hearts and prayers are with his family and friends.”

U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. B.B. Bell released a message Monday about the death.

“When the death occurred, the soldier was walking alone at night along a road and had no battle buddy covering his flanks,” Bell wrote. “This troubles me as it represents a very serious problem — one that demands immediate commander and leader attention.”

He directed his leaders to enforce the buddy system and warned about the dangers of alcohol use.

“Although alcohol has not been determined as a factor in this accident due to the ongoing investigation, it is important that leaders enforce responsible alcohol consumption, safe pedestrian practices, and the importance of the buddy system for all of our servicemembers,” Bell wrote.

The Korean police said they would be present at an autopsy to be conducted by U.S. Forces Korea personnel this week.

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