REPORTING FROM BEIJING -- Authorities in a northwestern China have arrested the head of a kindergarten on accusations of operating an overloaded school van that was involved in a head-on collision with a truck. The accident killed at least 19 children.
The crash took place Wednesday morning when the van’s driver allegedly drove on the wrong side of the road in foggy weather.
The collision killed the driver instantly; a teacher on board died later at a hospital, and all surviving 43 children were injured. The children were between 3 and 5 years old and attended the Little Doctor Kindergarten in the city of Qingyang in Gansu province.
According to state media, Li Jungang, the private kindergarten’s owner, had torn out the seats of the nine-person van so that the children had to stand or bring their own stools. At the time of the accident, 62 children and two adults were riding in the van.
Before the arrest Saturday, at least three high-level local officials and a police officer were suspended from duty for failing to detect the problem.
The Communist Party's official People’s Daily said the driver and Li were responsible for the tragedy. But in an interview with local media, Li’s wife pointed toward insufficient funding from the government and said her husband had invested $157,000 of his own money.
The accident has led to an outpouring of rage in China’s online communities. Most people posting messages derided the insufficient budget spent on rural education and contrasted it with the extravagance of government officials.
“Our government purchases tens of thousands of Mercedes-Benzes and BMWs each year .… But our children are crammed into one van,” one commented on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like microblogging service. “Has the government really cared about the children at all?” he asked.
China spent $12.6 billion on government cars in 2008, local media reported, citing figures from the consulting firm Sinotrust.
In the wake of the accident, authorities have shut down Li’s kindergarten and started an overhaul of school buses in at least three other provinces.
-- John Lee
Photo: Investigators inspect a school bus that collided head-on with a truck in China's Gansu province on Wednesday. Credit: China Daily / Reuters