BEIJING— A dozen local officials in rural eastern China have been suspended while authorities investigate the crash of an overloaded school van that killed 11 kindergartners, state media said Wednesday.
A deputy mayor for Guixi city, where the crash occurred Monday, and the heads of the local education and transportation bureaus are among those suspended, the official party newspaper People’s Daily reported. The principal of the kindergarten, who also was the van’s driver, has been detained, and the official Xinhua News Agency said the privately run school had been operating without a license and has been ordered closed.
An initial police investigation found that the van was speeding and ended up in a 3-meter (yard)-deep pond, Xinhua said, adding that the principal “drove improperly.” The principal had modified the van to carry more passengers, state broadcaster China Central Television said on its website, without citing sources.
The victims, ages 4 to 6, were mostly children of migrant workers and lived with their grandparents, Xinhua said. Many children from poor rural areas are “left behind” while their parents seek work in thriving coastal cities.
The principal, Zhou Chun’e, has been detained on suspicion of culpable driving causing serious injury, said an official surnamed Jiang from the Communist Party propaganda office in Guixi.
Zhou had been driving the seven-seat van with 15 children and another adult aboard along a rural road undergoing repairs in Jiangxi province, Xinhua said.
Three children died at the scene, while eight others died after being hospitalized. Each victim’s family will be paid 480,000 yuan ($77,100), Xinhua said.
Overcrowding on school buses is common in rural China. Closures of rural schools have exacerbated the problem, as children are forced to travel farther to get an education while increasing the demand for buses.
Tong Fuliang, the father of a 4-year-old who was one of the four survivors of the crash, rushed to the hospital from the factory in neighboring Zhejiang province where he works, and broke down in tears in the ward, Xinhua said.
“I want to take him with me to Zhejiang. Though life might be hard out there, it helps me feel calm with the family around,” Tong was quoted as saying.
With the closure of Zhou’s kindergarten, preschoolers in the area might either travel farther to attend a nursery or stay home, local villagers told Xinhua.
Last year, a nine-seat private school van overloaded with 62 kindergarten children and two adults crashed head-on with a truck in rural western China, killing 19 of the children and both adults. The kindergarten head, who owned the vehicle but wasn’t driving, was later convicted of a traffic accident crime and sentenced to seven years in prison.