Police: Motorist aimed at group of Kearns students
Safety » Deputies investigating inconsistencies in the driver's story.
By Melinda Rogers
And Lindsay Whitehurst
The Salt Lake Tribune
Updated: 05/07/2009 09:40:11 PM MDT
Kearns » Police have arrested a man they believe purposely ran his car into six children walking home from Kearns Junior High on Wednesday.
As rattled parents and students tried to make sense of the bizarre incident Thursday, police continued to investigate why Luka Wall Kang, a 50-year-old Sudanese refugee, allegedly drove into the group of students on a sidewalk at 4015 West near 5600 South as children streamed home from school around 3:10 p.m.
Three boys hospitalized after they were hit by Kang weren't seriously hurt and are on the mend, said Salt Lake County sheriff's spokesman Don Hutson. The other three were treated at the scene. All of the injured students were home from the hospital by the end of the day Thursday, he said.
According to the Arizona Refugee Resettlement Program, Kang is a refugee from Sudan who came to the U.S. in May 2003 through Jewish Refugee Resettlement of Southern Arizona.
Records show he lived in Tuscon, Ariz., and Omaha, Neb., before arriving in Kearns "a few months ago," Hutson said.
Kang told police that he suffered from depression and was frustrated over his lack of employment, Hutson said.
"His offering of an explanation was 'I'm very upset. I'm depressed.' He was he was almost to the point of being suicidal," Hutson said.
Kang's roommate, Gak Dohl, of Kearns, said Kang suffered an injury when his eyes were splashed with a chemical
while working at a hospital in Arizona. In October, Kang came to Utah to find a job, but could not find work and complained of the eye injury, which caused him cloudy vision, Dohl said.
Dohl said he took Kang to an optometrist who confirmed Kang suffered an injury.
Kang "was a little bit depressed, maybe because he doesn't have a job," Dohl said.
Dohl believes Kang accidently drove onto the sidewalk because he had trouble seeing. Kang would not aim for children, Dohl said.
But Hutson said there are several facets of the story that don't yet make sense. He said police are puzzled about why Kang was honking his horn as he drove down the sidewalk. And while police say Kang wasn't targeting specific children, it did appear that he was aiming his car toward people on the sidewalk.
Hutson said it's strange Kang was able to navigate around a fence before he continued to drive down the sidewalk. During interviews, Kang never told police he drove on the sidewalk because he couldn't see, Hutson said. And Kang didn't appear to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
"We're aware that he potentially has issues with his eyes," Hutson said. He said police were told Kang was trying to get disability payments, but couldn't confirm if his eye problems are the reason.
Kang was booked into the Salt Lake County jail about 12:15 a.m. Thursday on suspicion of 10 counts of aggravated assault. He had been hospitalized briefly Wednesday for minor injuries.
Kang doesn't have a criminal history in Utah nor Arizona, where his car is registered, and he does not hold a driver license in either state, Hutson said.
Court records from the Tucson Municipal Court show he was cited for three traffic violations in 2004: failure to produce evidence of financial responsibility, failure to carry a vehicle registration card and failure to yield from a private road. He was ordered to complete a defensive driving course for one of the infractions.
Hutson said police are working with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to determine whether Kang is here on a work visa or for political asylum.
Kearns Junior High School Principal Kandace Barber said Wednesday's events unnerved students, who remained concerned about their friends Thursday.
Barber said the school had extra counselors on hand to speak to students who witnessed the incident or those stressed about what happened to their friends.
She said one of the injured students returned to school on Thursday while the other five stayed home to recover.
Barber said she wrote a letter to parents explaining what happened and considered including safety tips in her note. But she remembered the students who were injured were walking on the sidewalk --- exactly the place where they should have been walking -- and realized it's tough to find a lesson in the strange event.
"They were doing all the right things. They were where they were supposed to be," Barber said of the students on the sidewalk.
Nate Carlisle contributed to this report.