Two U.S. soldiers accused of firing a BB gun at pedestrians in the Itaewon bar district in Seoul and leading police on a high-speed police car chase have admitted to the crimes, police said Monday.
A third soldier is being treated for a bullet wound he sustained when a police patrolman fired three rounds from his pistol seeking to end the car chase.
Yongsan police have asked the U.S. military to hand over the bullet as evidence and also plan to subject all three to drug tests.
The car the soldiers were driving was found abandoned just before they appeared before police on Monday morning less than 1 km away from Yongsan Police Station.
The soldiers drove the car for a distance of 17 km back to Yongsan after leading police on a 12-km chase from Itaewon to Jayang-dong in eastern Seoul. It took police 33 hours to find the car. Traces of blood, apparently from the soldier who was shot, as well as around 30 BB pellets were found inside the vehicle.
Police faced mounting criticism for the way they handled the incident. They received an emergency call from a bystander at around 11:50 p.m. Saturday saying gun shots had been fired. Two officers from the Itaewon precinct were dispatched. When the U.S. soldiers refused to step out of their vehicle and sped away, one of them had to follow in a taxi because all the patrol cars in the precinct were out in other parts of the neighborhood.
The taxi was unable to follow due to heavy traffic, prompting another patrolman walking his beat to board another cab and give chase.
At no point did any police car join the chase.
Yet police claim they followed proper procedure. "After the initial report, we reported the make of the vehicle, model, color and license plate number up the chain of command," a police spokesman said. The police hotline relay center sent out a notice instructing all patrol cars and police nearby to assist in finding the car and apprehending the soldiers.
But no police cars were there to block the vehicle as it sped down a riverside expressway at 170 km/h. "We were unable to dispatch patrol cars on time since the vehicle was traveling so fast," the police spokesman said.
The vehicle raced through Seoul for 30 km without facing a single police blockade.
The patrolman who chased after the vehicle in a taxi was injured in the leg while trying to block the car and is being treated at a hospital. "At the time, the vehicle had stopped in a cul-de-sac and I ordered them to stop in English," said the patrolman, Im Sung-mook. "But the car suddenly lunged toward me. I fired a warning shot into the air before crashing into the car and my left knee was hit by the car and my left foot was crushed by the wheel."
When the car reversed, Im fired three rounds at the wheel of the car next to the driver's seat. "I was really pumped up at the time and didn't feel any pain," he recalled.
He became a police officer in 2010 and was stationed to the Itaewon precinct last year.