Three U.S. soldiers led police on a high-speed car chase through Seoul late Saturday night that resulted in a standoff where one of the soldiers got shot.
The Americans sped away in their car after apparently firing a BB gun in the crowded bar district of Itaewon. The car traveled around 12 km from Itaewon to Jayang-dong in eastern Seoul at speeds of up to 170 km/h and crashing into four other cars during the chase.
The soldiers dumped the car near the main U.S. military base in Yongsan around 1 a.m. Sunday and escaped into the compound. One police officer and two bystanders were injured during the chase and the U.S. soldier was shot in the shoulder.
Plastic BB pellets were discovered at the scene where the chase began, and witnesses reported hearing gun shots. Police will have to establish whether the soldiers were drunk or under the influence of drugs. Two of the three have appeared before police for questioning, but the one who was shot has yet to be questioned since he is in hospital.
On the day after the incident, Chris Gentry, the deputy commanding general of the Eighth U.S. Army, visited Yongsan Police Station to apologize and pledge to cooperate with police.
Since 2002, when two middle school girls were killed under the wheels of a U.S. armored vehicle, the U.S. Forces Korea has tried hard to apologize promptly and to reduce incidents that could damage its reputation. Yet crimes by USFK personnel have not decreased. On the contrary, they are rising, with an average of 300 cases reported every year.
Just a month ago, six U.S. soldiers were handed over to U.S. military police for sexually harassing a Korean woman in her 20s on the subway. At that time, too, a battalion commander of the soldiers visited the Uijeongbu city mayor to apologize for the incident and pledged such acts would not happen again.
Out of 2,200 offenses involving USFK personnel over the last five years, only four soldiers were arrested and investigated. Under the Status of Forces Agreement between Seoul and Washington, Korean police cannot get custody of U.S. military personnel unless they are arrested on the spot for an offense.
The U.S. must cooperate with Korean police and come up with fundamental steps to reduce offenses committed by its troops. If not, it will face mounting calls for a far more drastic revision to the SOFA.