U.S. soldiers being questioned in Seoul taxi incident
SEOUL — A Korean taxi cab driver said he was robbed and beaten Christmas night after picking up five U.S. soldiers who promised a “big tip” of about $9 for a ride from Uijeongbu subway station to Camp Stanley, according to Korean police and U.S. military officials.
No one has been charged in the case, Korean police and a 2nd Infantry Division spokesman said Tuesday though both officials confirmed it’s under investigation.
Driver Kim Tae-geun said the soldiers told him to drive past Camp Stanley onto an isolated stretch of road. After pulling over to let three of the soldiers urinate, he was beaten, robbed and put into the taxi’s trunk, he told Stars and Stripes in a phone interview Tuesday afternoon.
Then one of his passengers began to drive the taxi, Kim said. “I have to escape from here” or die, he recalled thinking.
Four soldiers from 4th Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment and 1st Battalion, 38th Field Artillery Regiment are being questioned, said Maj. Karl Ivey, a 2nd ID spokesman. They are restricted to their quarters, dining hall and religious service as the investigation continues, Ivey said.
Investigators are seeking a fifth person, he said, adding that military officials are working with Korean police, who have jurisdiction. Military officials have identified none of the soldiers.
Commanders from the soldiers’ units visited Kim in the hospital Tuesday to apologize, Ivey said.
Kim said he agreed to let five men squeeze into his cab about 11 p.m. Sunday. They said they’d give a good tip for a ride to Stanley, the driver said Tuesday.
Kim agreed to take the men for 15,000 won, or about $15; the metered fare for that ride usually is about 6,000 won, he said.
As Kim got close to a turnoff for Camp Stanley, the passengers, saying they had a Christmas party to attend, told him to stay on his current route. As they got further from town, Kim said, he began to worry.
“But it was Christmas,” he remembered thinking, and he kept following their directions.
Then some of the passengers asked him to pull over so they could urinate, Kim said. When three left the car, the two others put him in a headlock and began to beat him with a bottle and their fists, he said.
The passengers took Kim’s cell phone and 180,000 won — about $180 — from his wallet and taxi, then put him in the trunk, he said.
When one of the passengers began to drive, Kim said, he decided to run. His Hyundai Sonata taxi has a release lever inside the trunk, he said. While the cab was moving, he opened the trunk, leapt out and began to run. “I just ran and ran until I felt like dying,” he said through a translator.
He ran until he got to a Korean police office near Camp Stanley. He told the police what happened and described the five suspects. The passengers continued to drive for about half a mile, then got out and hailed another cab, said Kwon O-hyun, the detective in charge of violent crimes for Uijeongbu police. That taxi took them back to the Uijeongbu station, Kwon said.
Korean police throughout Uijeongbu were looking for five men. Police spotted the men at the station, Kwon said.
By 11:40 p.m., the Korean police had apprehended one man. Kim, who had gone to a nearby hospital to be examined, went to the police station to identify the man, he said.
Kim, who is 42 and has driven a taxi for seven years in Uijeongbu, was being treated at the hospital Tuesday afternoon. He said he has fatigue and headaches and his neck is swollen. He also said he’s afraid to sleep at night.
He is supposed to meet with a counselor within the next week, he said, and on Wednesday he was to meet with the military’s Criminal Investigation Division.
He said he didn’t know when he would return to work but when he did he would think twice before picking up U.S. soldiers. But, he acknowledged, he needs the American customers — typically big tippers — to make ends meet.