A hapless truck driver in China has been hit with a fine worth in excess of a hundred years of his wages as a result of his involvement in a bridge collapse.
On July 19 2011, Zhang Wenjun, a truck driver hailing from Hebei province in China’s north, was driving a truck laden with sand across a concrete bridge in the Beijing suburb of Huairou, when the structure collapsed beneath the weight of his vehicle.
A second trial of his case held in Beijing’s Second Intermediate Court last week upheld the decision of the first trial, which found him guilty of causing the collapse of the Baihe Bridge by attempting to traverse it with a vehicle bearing an excessive load.
According to the Xinhua News Agency Zhang’s vehicle weighed in at 160 tonnes at the time of the bridge collapse, well in excess of regulatory limits.
The initial trial held by the local Beijing Huairou Court in July 2012 sentenced Zhang to four years in prison for infringement of traffic regulations occasioning the incident, as well as slammed him with a fine equivalent to the damaged sustained by the bridge, which was pegged at 15.6 million yuan (approximately AUD$2.76 million).
Zhang submitted an appeal against this sentence in September of last year, on the grounds that his vehicle was not the cause of the bridge collapse, as well as the exorbitant size of the fine.
While the Beijing Second Intermediate Court upheld the decision of the lower court, it did reduce his prison sentence from four to three years, as well as the fine from 15.56 million yuan to 2.74 million yuan, equivalent to around AUD$490,000.
This sum would nonetheless appear impossible for Zhang to repay in this lifetime, given that it is equivalent to a century’s income of the average Chinese urbanite in 2012, which was 26,959 yuan.
The Beijing Times reports that Zhang’s travails will be compounded by his position as the family’s sole breadwinner, serving as the chief support for his wife, son, daughter and mother.
Zhang’s plighted has drawn widespread attention and controversy amongst Chinese Internet users, with many imputing the bridge collapse to the shoddy construction quality which plagues the country’s infrastructure as a result of official corruption.
In August last year one of the country’s showpiece infrastructure projects – the Yangmingtan Bridge in the northeastern city of Harbin, suffered from a ramp collapse which left three people dead and five people injured.
The incident was one of at least seven bridge collapses in 2012, and occurred less than a year after the completion of the project – one of the longest bridges in the country – at a cost of around USD$300 million.
Chinese Internet users have been quick to ridicule the sentence Zhang received, as well as point accusatory fingers at poor construction work.
One poser on Sina Weibo – China’s domestic version of Twitter, remarked that the bridge was “probably made of bean curd,” while another said that the sentence would be “mocked by the people for 10,000 years.”