Survivors of a horrific crash in Malaysia that left eight teenage cyclists dead and eight others seriously injured have spoken of the moment a car driven by a 22-year-old woman ploughed into the group in which they were riding.
Six of the victims, all male and aged between 13 and 16, died at the scene, with the other two losing their lives as they were being taken to hospital by ambulance.
Five of the riders who were injured sustained broken legs while two others suffered bleeding on the brain and another was left with head injuries. Two of them are reported to be in critical condition.
The incident happened at 3.30am on Saturday morning in the Middle Ring Road in Johor Bahru, a city in the south of the Malay Peninsula opposite Singapore.
The road is classified as an Expressway, a high-speed route that often has a separate motorcycle lane, and road.cc is seeking to establish whether or not bicycles would be banned from the one where the tragedy took place.
But a source who visits the area regularly told us it that in his opinion, an Expressway is "no place for cyclists," especially at night.
The group, which according to police numbered between 20 and 30 riders, had been planning to cycle to the city’s main square.
One of the survivors, 16-year-old Muhamad Farhan Che Mat, was quoted on Asia One as saying that the group of riders met up once a week and would ride around the city until dawn.
"Most of us were caught off guard,” he said. “We don't know what hit us from behind and most of us went flying a few metres due to the impact."
Abdul Samad Abdul Kadir, also 16, revealed it was the first time he had ridden with the group. "We were planning to head to the Pandan area when some of us decided to race,” he said.
"I was uncomfortable with the idea and told them I was going to leave," he added.
Local chief police Assistant Commissioner Sulaiman Salleh said that police had long been concerned about night-time group rides by youths on bicycles that often did not meet legal requirements because of modifications such as removing the brakes, reports the Borneo Post.
“Such bicycles are used for joyrides in the wee hours of the morning because cyclists think there are no cars around at that time,” he said.
He revealed that last year, 37 bicycles that did not comply with the law were confiscated during 28 operations carried out by officers, and that police had continued that exercise into 2017, with a further 17 bikes seized during five operations.
“We are not pinning the blame on anyone, but we advise everyone to abide by the law. It is an offence to modify bicycles,” he continued.
He said the bikes of all eight of the teenagers who died had been modified in some way.
Police are continuing their investigation, but Assistant Commissioner Salleh said that because the road undulates and twists, the driver would not have seen the group until it was too late.
He said she “ploughed into” the group of riders “when she was believed to have failed to brake in time.”
He added initial investigations showed that she was not drunk, had not been using a mobile phone and she was not believed to have been driving at excessive speed.
Pictures of the scene show that her car overturned in the crash and the motorist was treated in hospital for minor injuries and shock. She was reported to be in police.
Deputy minister of home affairs Nur Jazlan Mohamed called on state legislators to ban underage youths from certain locations at night, reports the Malaysia Mail.
He said that in Johor Bahru, there were “many cases of underaged youths going out late at night” and that “the problem has been taking place for several years before this.”
The minister added that while he had urged police to tackle the issue, “the problem is the children are under-aged and the police cannot take harsh action against them.”
The mother of one of the boys who was killed, 14-year-old Mohamad Shahrul Izwan Azzuraimee, told Asia One that when she last spoke to her son on Friday, he had told her he was going to a festival celebrating Chinese New Year.
She said he usually cycled close to their home, adding: "I was not aware that he went to town to meet up with his friends."
The country’s prime minister, Najib Razak, took to Twitter to express his condolences to the families of the youths who had lost their lives.
“Read the news on the 8 teenagers and children who died from being hit by a vehicle in Johor this morning,” he wrote. “It is very sad. Condolences to the families of the victims."
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.