Local police in the Hang Chat district were alerted to a crash on the Lampang-Chiang Mai road Friday night and arrived to find a tour bus had slammed into an 8-year-old elephant, killing it.
According to Col. Pisupakorn Noipaksa, the tour bus driver, Narit Chittong, 45, was driving at high speed when he suddenly tried to overtake using the right lane.
The young elephant, named Phlai Udom, was walking in the right lane, within a barrier put up especially for elephants to walk behind. At that moment, the elephant turned left to walk into the forest.
The bus crashed into the calf, who died immediately, said Pisupakorn. Narit’s legs were also immediately broken as a result of the impact, preventing him from applying the the vehicle’s brakes, which slid 70 meters. The elephant’s body was trapped underneath the front wheels.
Pisupakorn said that Phlai Udom was an elephant in the Thai Elephant Conservation Center, where the baby pachyderm had lived for four years. The nearby conservation center allowed elephants to roam around the nearby forested area as part of their Elephant Reintroduction Foundation program to return elephants to the wild.
According to Pisupakorn, Phlai Udom often walked around the forested area and the road, even visiting local traffic police who were quite fond of him.
“Phlai Udom roams the area regularly. He definitely didn’t break loose,” Pisupakorn said.
The road has many signs telling drivers to yield to elephants crossing. Local road officials were aware that Phlai Udom was walking around that night, and held up many signals and flashlights telling cars to be vigilant.
The Chiang Mai-bound bus had left Bangkok at 10:30am.
One of the passengers, a university student, saw Phlai Udom and yelled for Narit to slow down, but said the driver did not. Narit sustained a number of injuries including two broken legs and cuts to his face caused by the shattering windshield. None of the passengers was injured.
Police said Narit was sober at the time of the incident and will be charged with reckless driving, which amounts to a fine of 400 baht to 1,000 baht. Narit will also have compensate the Thailand Elephant Conservation Center.
“Drivers, please heed road officials’ signals to slow down for elephants crossing. I pity Phlai Udom so much,” Pisupakorn said.