NSF Dominique Lee Case In 2012, Involved Heartbreaking Post By His Mum

The precious lessons we’ve learnt from Singaporean sons who have given their lives for the ultimate cause, have resurfaced in the light of a recent tragedy.

We noticed that an MS News post from 2016 was trending over the weekend, even as CFC Aloysius Pang was laid to rest.

More specifically, the case of PTE Dominique Lee’s unfortunate death, due to an acute allergic reaction to smoke grenades back in 2012.

The article has received 15,467 shares at the time of writing. The Facebook remembrance page of PTE Lee has also been updated with this cryptic post, asking for “accountability”.

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Here’s the TL;DR on the case, and how it’s a timely reminder that Aloysius Pang’s tragic passing may somehow uncover the answers to some questions remaining.

A heartbreaking plea

On 3 March 2016, Singapore’s High Court threw out a civil lawsuit against the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), by the family of Dominique Sarron Lee.

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He was a 21-year-old NSF who passed away due to an allergic reaction to smoke grenades, during a training exercise in 2012. The family was due to pay $22,000 in legal fees, after judgement was passed.

In a heartbreaking Facebook post on a remembrance page for him, his mother detailed her thoughts on the verdict.

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In her words,

I have been worn-down by the very government I taught you to trust…beaten and defeated by the very people I advised you to respect and honor. Dom, forgive me. I taught you wrong.

What exactly happened?

21-year-old Private Dominique Lee (PTE Lee) passed out when 6 smoke grenades were used in the training area, during a military exercise held at Lim Chu Kang.

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This was 3 times the grenades allowed by safety regulations, which specified only 2 should be used.

Dominique had been asthmatic, and suffered from a grave allergic reaction to zinc chloride within the smoke. After being evacuated to Sungei Gedong Medical Centre, he was then hospitalised at National University Hospital.

However, he passed away at 2pm that day.

COI findings & coroner’s inquiry

A Committee of Inquiry (COI) was convened in 2012, and Coroner’s Inquiry (CI) started in 2013.

1. Too many smoke grenades used: COI

COI’s findings added that PTE Lee’s medical classification and vocational assignment were in line with guidelines.

However, the number of smoke grenades used, and the distance between them weren’t in accordance with Training Safety Regulations.

2. PTE Lee “under declared” asthmatic condition: CI

The CI concluded that Dominique’s “acute allergic reaction” was “unlikely to have been predicted”.

He could not confirm if the acute reaction was due to the concentration or the exposure to the zinc chloride fumes from the grenades.

Finally, the coroner claims PTE Lee “under declared his asthmatic condition” — although he had an asthma attack 3 months prior, he allegedly did not declare it during medical checks.

Despite his asthma condition, Dominique was declared medically fit to serve in his vocation.

“Punished according to military law”

Captain Najib & Captain Chia Thye Siong – the safety officer involved in the exercise – weren’t found “directly responsible” for PTE Lee’s death.

The CI ruled that they couldn’t have foreseen PTE Lee’s allergic reaction, and no criminal charges were brought against the 2 officers.

Instead, they were tried for “negligent performance of lawful order or duty”, found guilty and “punished according to military law”.

However, the specific penalties both officers faced weren’t made known to the public in SAF’s Facebook post. MINDEF also declined to respond to queries on the exact punishments meted out, when TODAY reached out to them on 8 Mar 2016.

Statutory immunity against negligence suits

As a result, Dominique’s parents decided to sue the SAF and 2 officers for negligence in a civil lawsuit.

Dominique’s mother (left) and brother (right)

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But the case was rejected by the court, on the grounds of the Government Proceedings Act, which gives the government and army “statutory immunity” against negligence suits.

Under this act, members of the SAF aren’t “burdened by the prospect of legal action”, when they conduct training operations.

This is as long as they are proven to be executing their duties, in accordance with, and on behalf of the organisation.

Dominique’s family argued that immunity didn’t apply, as the commander flouted safety regulations, despite knowing them.

MINDEF waives $22,000 in legal costs

As per the original ruling, the family was supposed to fork out $22,000 in legal fees for all 3 defendants, for the matter. However, MINDEF decided to waive the legal costs.

MINDEF also offered an undisclosed amount of compensation to the family — 2 to 4 times provided under the Work Injury Compensation Act (WICA) for training incidents. TODAY estimates that the max WICA limit before Jan 2016 was S$170,000.

The family maintains that they’ve declined to receive compensation.

They urged MINDEF to reveal the amount so Singaporeans will know “how much the life of a young man is worth” to them.

Criminal lawsuits dependent on AGC’s ruling

SAF clarified that legal recourse is available, when SAF personnel commit “rash and negligent acts”, even during the course of their military duties.

The Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) decides if the evidence “warrants this course of action”. SAF personnel found guilty in this situation, will face criminal charges.

Examples include the 2004 case of 2SG Hu Enhuai’s death involving 4 SAF commandos, and the 2012 case of a Master Sergeant who pleaded guilty to the charge of a rash act, and perverting the course of justice.

Rest in peace, Dom & Aloysius

While the media spotlight is no longer on the case of Dominique Lee, we believe the resurgence of the post may spread awareness about their family’s predicament.

After all, every training incident births a unique set of circumstances, and a different response from the SAF.

In Dom’s case, his family decided to seek redress and further answers from SAF, after the COI & CI reported their findings. What resulted was a 3-year-long almost lawsuit that wasn’t to be.

However, we are now aware of the Government Proceedings Act, and whether it’s possible to bring a criminal lawsuit against personnel involved in the incident.

We will be awaiting the COI findings for Aloysius with bated breath, even as we mourn his passing.

May he, and all other Singaporean sons who’ve given their lives serving our nation, receive due justice and finally rest in peace.

Also read:

5 NSF Deaths That Sparked A Committee Of Inquiry & The One That Didn’t

Featured image from Singapore Sports Fan and @DomSarronLee on Facebook.