Nitikarn had little chance of avoiding the gaping hole on the minor road in Srisoonthorn. It was dark, it was raining and the sinkhole was eight metres wide and two metres deep. The only warning was a piece of green plastic net stretched across the road and a small handwritten notice on a piece of cloth stating, “Road cut off.”
“I knew that there were repairs happening in the area because I always used the road. Before the day of the incident, there were warning signs and barriers in the area,” Nitikarn explains. “But that night, there was nothing, so I thought the repairs were complete and drove on the road. All I can remember is that I fell in the sinkhole and there was no warning sign or light.”
Nitikarn escaped with a broken arm, but Molly was rushed unconscious to the Intensive Care Unit at Vachira Phuket Hospital. She underwent brain surgery the following day, but her injuries were too severe and she passed away on December 14.
All eyes turned to Phuket officials. Who allowed this to happen? What did they have to say to Molly’s heartbroken parents? And how would justice be served? Worawut Songyod, the mayor of Srisoonthorn, visited the family in hospital and paid his respects at the municipality’s Manik temple where Molly’s body was sent, but all he could offer was the promise of compensation and work to ensure it didn’t happen again.
Before the incident, staff had installed a series of metal crowd control barriers across the road and put up warning signs at the side of the road before the hole, he said, but someone had removed the barriers. He did not know who or why.
It would take Nitikarn four and half long years to get the answers and the closure that she deserved; in June this year, she won a legal case against Srisoonthorn Municipality for negligence causing death, negligence causing bodily harm, and causing physical and mental injury.
Nitikarn and Molly’s father, Gordon Bailey, filed the initial report with Thalang Police against Srisoonthorn Municipality back in 2014, shortly after their daughter passed away. But they soon found themselves left in the dark about the progress of the case. Gordon, despondent and frustrated by this, as well as his unfavourable treatment as a foreigner, gave up the fight and he and Nitikarn later divorced. Nitikarn pushed forward alone on the slow, painful and complicated pathway to justice for Molly.
In July 2015, the case was still yet to be handed to the Phuket Public Prosecutor’s office, and Nitikarn filed for B10 million in compensation, the amount of money Molly would have made had she graduated from Kajonkiet International School, attended university and worked from 25-60 earning B50,000 per month.
“It’s so terrible to negotiate. Money means nothing compared to the life of my daughter,” said Nitikarn at the time. “I don’t want to live any longer because, in the depths of my heart, I think it’s my fault, that I killed Molly, and that’s the worst thing a mother can do.
“I have tried to commit suicide. But I stop the thoughts because my parents’ faces appear in my mind. I lost my daughter, but if I die, my parents will lose both a daughter and a granddaughter. How will they live? I have to be strong. I know I can’t forget this incident, I can only ‘comfort’ myself. It has passed and I have to move on.”
But with the ongoing investigation looming over her and no end in sight, it was impossible for Nitikarn to move on. The case remained under police inquiry for two years and with the state attorney for over a year, and Nitikarn found failings by officials and an absence of empathy at every stage. She consulted a number of lawyers with a view to suing the relevant officials individually but progress faltered there too, and she found herself hundreds of thousands of baht down and back to square one.
“People asked me if I was afraid. My answer was ‘No’ because if it wasn’t me, who would fight for Molly?” says Nitikarn. “I didn’t want the money, I wanted officials to be more responsible. I wanted them to take safety as priority, to have empathy and look at me, not disappear when everyone stops talking about it.”
Nitikarn’s resilience was rewarded when a friend introduced her to Phuriwat Srireuang, a lawyer from Bangkok who took one look at the case notes and offered to represent Nitikarn pro bono. A father of a daughter himself, Phuriwat empathised with her plight and could see Nitikarn was exhausted from fighting the case on her own.
“I never thought that such good people still existed,” says Nitikarn.
With Phuriwat’s help, Nitikarn won the case against Srisoonthorn Municipality, but she doesn’t care to talk about the details. The victory is a hollow one for Nitikarn, who would sooner have her daughter back than any amount of government compensation.
“I don’t want the money. I feel bad every time I see it. But I had to follow the process. By the end, I had no energy and just wanted to finish [the case] as fast as possible,” Nitikarn says.
“Lots of people said I want to get rich by the compensation. I really want to tell them if I can choose being rich or my daughter, I’m going to choose my daughter. My father said he would pay or give away his wealth if he could get Molly back. Unfortunately, it’s impossible. She’s gone, and I have to be able to live and move on for her.”
While Molly and the incident are never far from her mind, and she continues to battle sleepless nights and depression, she finds spiritual comfort through daily prayer, meditation and alms-giving, and keeps herself busy as the owner of Kratibkao restaurant in Cherng Talay. There’s a sense that, now the case is behind her, a weight is lifted and Nitikarn is indeed able to move on, and her closing words speak to that.
“I read a book about an American soldier. Every morning he received orders to fight, to investigate, etc. There was excitement in his life all the time. When he retired and went back home, he was depressed and didn’t know what he was living for.
“That made me realise that happiness in life comes from stepping through obstacles and tragedy. You have to have self-esteem and believe that you can pass through any obstacles. Everyone has problems. The most important thing for solving them is your mindset.
“If you ask me if I am happy nowadays, I would say I am but in a different way. My sadness is that I don’t have my daughter anymore, but I welcome happiness from my surroundings. We have to make ourselves happy, not spread sadness out to people around us.
To those readers who are in the depths of sadness, I would say look at the sadness as a thing you can step through so you can find happiness and the true meaning of life.”