By Khushwant Singh and Daryl Chin
The Straits Times
Saturday, Mar 23, 2013
SINGAPORE - Last April, a toddler was saved as he was about to fall from a fourth-floor balcony. Two months later, he was not so lucky.
Eric Wong Yu Hao, a year and nine months old, fell to his death after squeezing through the bars of the balcony at a Hillview Green condominium in Upper Bukit Timah.
State Coroner Imran Abdul Hamid, while saying he found that the death was accidental on Wednesday, urged those who look after young children to check possible dangers in their homes and put in safety measures. He pointed out that there are online groups offering solutions to make homes safe.
"While I don't think anyone can guarantee that the suggested solutions will be 100 per cent effective, at the very least caregivers can have the peace of mind that what could possibly be done to make the home safe for young children, has been done," he said.
The family's domestic worker, Ms Rebecca Lubas Rallos, cried as she testified how last April, she was in the kitchen when Eric's father, Mr Wong Tse Lap, 60, also came in.
Realising that no one was looking after Eric, she ran into the living room. Finding the toddler halfway through the balcony's bars, she saved him.
She then suggested that the 14cm to 16.5cm gaps between the bars be closed. Mr Wong, a taxi driver, did not respond.
But his wife, Madam Tan Siew Lian, 42, told police that she had instructed Ms Rallos, 27, to place Eric in the baby chair or the pram if she had housework.
On June 1, the maid said she left the couple's only child in the playroom at about 3.30pm to wash a milk bottle in the kitchen.
A few minutes later, she became worried as the child was "too quiet". She called out his name. When she could not find him in the playroom, she went to the balcony, where she saw the child lying on the ground below.
She rushed down, shouting for help, then carried the bleeding child upstairs so as to lock up the house. An ambulance took Eric to the National University Hospital, where he died at 6.45pm of head injuries.
Ms Rallos, who had been working for the family for 1½ years prior to the incident, has been with the Philippine Embassy after the incident. She will be going home soon.
Eric's parents were not at the coroner's court on Wednesday, and Mr Wong declined comment when approached on Wednesday night.
But the tragedy was still fresh on the minds of some Hillview Green residents when The Straits Times visited them on Wednesday evening.
Stock broker Lincoln Lim, 45, remembered rushing home that day when a neighbour told him of the tragedy. The father of two, including a seven-year-old, wanted to make sure the plastic sheets covering the grilles in his home were secure.
"This was an accident that no one wanted to happen. And it's always better to be overly cautious," he said.
Another resident, who wanted to be known only as Satish, said Mr Wong and his wife, who used to frequent the estate's park, have hardly been seen this past year.
He added: "It's unimaginable to have your child go before you. I hope they can recover."