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Driver in fatal crash into day care kids says she didn't notice oncoming car

Messages and flowers laid for the victims at the scene of the accident are seen on May 9, 2019 in Otsu, Shiga Prefecture. (Mainichi/Kenji Ikai)

OTSU -- Shiga Prefectural Police here have reported that the driver who allegedly caused an accident by making a right turn into an oncoming car, leaving two toddlers dead and injuring 14 other kindergarten children and staff, has admitted she didn't notice the other vehicle before executing the maneuver.

Fumiko Shintate, 52, was sent to Otsu District Public Prosecutors Office on May 10 on suspicion of negligent driving causing death or injury under the Act on Punishment of Acts Inflicting Death or Injury on Others by Driving a Motor Vehicle, etc., after being held by police for the alleged violation of the same law. Police quoted Shintate as saying that she realized the other car was present only when she heard the collision, and that she didn't look ahead properly when making the turn.

According to police, Shintate's regular class car crashed into an oncoming lightweight car near the center line of a T junction in Otsu at around 10:15 a.m. on May 8. The force of the collision sent the lighter car into a nearby sidewalk, where it hit 13 children aged 2 to 3 and three day care staff members aged between 27 and 47 from local Leimond Oumi Hoikuen day care center. The group had been waiting to cross the road. Shintate was not using her phone while driving.

The pedestrian crossing, which lacks protective curbs, at the junction where a car entered the sidewalk in the accident in Otsu, Shiga Prefecture, is seen in this May 9, 2019 photo. (Mainichi/Kenji Ikai)
Cushion drums set out after the crash to reduce the speed of any vehicles that could enter the sidewalk are seen on May 10, 2019 in Otsu, Shiga Prefecture. (Mainichi/Yusuke Komatsu)

The driver of the lightweight car, a 62-year-old resident, described the moments leading up to the accident. "I thought she was going to stop, so when she went to make the right turn I quickly swerved left." It seems no attempt was made by either driver to push the brakes. Based on damage to the vehicles and the scene of the accident, it's highly likely neither driver was speeding. Both said they felt sorry for what happened to the victims.

The junction where the incident took place hasn't seen a serious accident in the last five years, with the curb at the junction showing no traces of damage. It appears that because the car entered the sidewalk at a pedestrian crossing, which lacks any barriers, injuries were much more serious.

A police investigation into the crash showed there was just around a second between the two cars colliding and the light vehicle launching onto the sidewalk about 15 meters away. The children and staff at the pedestrian crossing would have had no time to escape its path.

Shiga Prefectural Police released statements from the families of Yui Harada and Gaku Ito, both aged 2, who died in the May 8 collision.

Harada's father wrote: "We couldn't hide our shock at her sudden death. We didn't think it was real." He continued, "Now, at home, we are forced to slowly come to accept that our daughter, who is sleeping so deeply and quietly without showing her regular bright and mischievous smiles, is gone.

"As a family we are wrapped in a deep sadness that tears at our hearts with each passing day." On saying goodbye, he wrote, "We want to send her off at peace. Yui only had two years and 10 months of love from her parents, so we want to give her a funeral filled with love from her mother, father and two siblings."

A statement for Gaku Ito attributed to the whole family, said, "We feel an immense sadness from the sudden loss of a beloved family member."

Both families appealed for understanding, asking for no further intrusion from the media.

(Japanese original by Misaki Morokuma and Yusuke Konishi, Otsu Bureau)

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