Monday, October 31, 2005

The Strait Times Monday October 31,2005

Car agent dies when test drive goes wrong

By Ben Nadarajan

SHE was out on a test drive with her last customer of the day before rushing off to a friend’s wedding.

But the 22 year old car sales agent He Xueli, just four months into her new job, never made it to the dinner with her boyfriend.

The customer she was sitting next to lost control of the new Mazda MX-5 while driving along Upper Paya Lebar Road at about 6pm on Saturday.

The silver sports car flew over the road divider, smashed head on into a black BMW, flipped over it and came crashing down into a van in the other lane.

The driver, a 24 year old warehouse supervisor, managed to stagger out of the badly battered car alive.

Ms He suffered a broken neck. She had to be unbuckled from her seat and carried out by passers-by.

The horrifying seconds before the out of control car came to a halt also caused Ms He to have a heart attack, as paramedics later found she had suffered cardiac arrest.

Her light blue blouse and black slacks – the uniform for Mazda sales staff – were stained with blood. Her strapless high heels lay by the side of the road. She was sent to Tan Tock Seng Hospital but died there an hour later.

The Mazda driver has been arrested and is out on bail.

The five people in the BMW were taken to Changi General Hospital where they received outpatient treatment for chest pains and breathing difficulties.One of them, a seven year old boy, also had abrasions on his knees. A couple in the van escaped unhurt.

Ms He started working at Mazda dealer Village Credit in Upper Bukit Timah four months ago. Before that, she was with a car rental shop. Colleagues say the Village Credit showroom had run out of the MX-5 model, so Ms He had to get one from another showroom in Macpherson Road.

She did not want to go for the test drive at first because of her friend’s wedding dinner later in the evening. “She wanted to let another agent handle the customer.but we were all busy as it was a Saturday evening and the showroom was quite packed then,’said a colleague,who did not want to be named.

“She initially thought she would tell the customer to come back another day, but she felt it wasn’t good customer service so she agreed to go with him.”

Barely 5 minutes into the journey, the customer lost control of the car on the winding road which is layered with metal plates due to construction works there.The colleague said they were not travelling on the usual test-drive route taken by Mazda sales agents.

The Mazda MX-5, also known as the Miata, costs about $110,000. It can hit a top speed of 191kmh.It uses rear-wheel-drive system, and motoring experts said such cars can easily swerve out of control if the driver suddenly takes his foot off the accelerator.

Ms He’s employers declined to comment on the accident, but car agents interviewed could not recall any colleague killed in a test drive accident before.

Ms He was the only child of an odd job labourer and a mother who works in a bakery. At the mortuary yesterday morning, her mother was in tears and declined to be interviewed.

Mss He stopped school after her O levels. But a relative said she recently started night classes for a marketing diploma as she wanted to “earn more money so her parents can retire.”

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