Man admits flicking homemade matchstick explosive that went off in neighbor’s HDB flat

SINGAPORE — After fashioning an explosive device from matchsticks, Ong Lam Wah did not think twice about flicking it off the window ledge of his master bedroom one evening.

It then entered a unit 10 floors below his and exploded, shocking the occupant who was praying.

The other man called the police and reported no damages or injuries, but said that someone had been throwing these devices “almost every night or weekend nights”.

On Wednesday (June 22), Ong, 54, pleaded guilty to one charge of committing a rash act endangering others’ safety at a Housing and Development Board (HDB) block in Sengkang.

A second charge of threatening to bomb Sengkang General Hospital will be taken into consideration for sentencing on July 21.

A judge called for reports to assess his suitability for community-based sentences — namely, a day reporting order or community service order.

Both the prosecution and Ong’s lawyer agreed to this before making submissions on the sentences they propose.

Those given a day reporting order are required to report to a day reporting center for monitoring and counseling, and undergo rehabilitation programmes. Judges will consider the nature of the offense and the offender’s character in assessing their suitability.

As for community service orders, offenders have to perform supervised community service for them to make amends to the community. The courts will look at the mental and physical conditions of an offender and whether such an order would allow for his or her reformation.

DID NOT KNOW WHERE DEVICES WOULD LAND

The court heard that after midnight on Aug 14 last year, Ong’s 47-year-old neighbor was performing his prayers with his back facing the window.

Suddenly, he heard a deafening “bang” sound slightly behind him to the right. He instinctively jumped forward away from the sound and experienced a ringing sound in his ears that lasted for several minutes.

Afterwards, he noticed a green box and some black specks on the floor. He also smelled a pungent odor like that of gunpowder, and saw a faint layer of white smoke entering his bedroom from the window.

He looked out of the window in a bid to catch the perpetrator but saw nothing. He then called the police.

Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Tan Jing Min told the court that police officers combed the area for three days to look for possible leads and check if cameras had captured video footage of the incident.

Ong was eventually identified as a suspect due to his earlier bomb threat. When interviewed by police officers three days after the incident, he confessed.

He had learned how to make the device through online videos, having been interested in bombs and air guns since his 30s.

He wanted a cheap way to create a device that could make loud sounds and came across tutorials on how to construct an explosive device purely with matchsticks.

He explained that he had placed the improvised matchstick explosive device on the window ledge of his bedroom and flicked it off.

He told the authorities that he “did not think about the neighbors below” before doing this, and further admitted to having done it twice earlier in June and July last year, DPP Tan said.

He committed the acts late at night because he did not want others to see him. He had no idea where any of the devices had landed, though he expected them to land on the ground floor, DPP Tan told the court.

In mitigation, Ong’s lawyer Kevin Liew from law firm Gloria-James Civetta & Co argued that this was a “one-off incident” that arose from Ong’s grief over his wife’s death.

His actions were the product of loneliness and sadness from being alone. He did not intend to hurt anyone and has since recognized the consequences and danger of his actions, the defense counsel added.

Ong was jobless at the time of his offenses.

Anyone found guilty of committing a rash act that endangers the personal safety of others can be jailed for up to six months or fined up to S$2,500, or punished with both.

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