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(LEAD) Police question U.S. soldier over car chase incident
By Kim Eun-jung
SEOUL, March 4 (Yonhap) -- An American soldier, who is accused of firing a BB gun into crowds and leading the police on a car chase, was questioned by authorities on Monday, while the other solider involved asked for an extension for his summons until he has recovered from a gunshot injury, South Korean police said.

   Two American soldiers -- a 26-year-old staff sergeant and a 23-year-old private first class who serve in the 8th U.S. Army at Yongsan Garrison -- were summoned by police after they threatened civilians with a BB gun, then led police on a high speed car chase through the capital city after midnight on Saturday. They are accused of wounding a police officer and civilians and damaging other vehicles.

   The chase began when the soldiers refused to cooperate with police officers who were dispatched to Itaewon subway station after receiving calls that American soldiers were threatening civilians with an air gun, officials at Yongsan Police Station said. An unidentified woman was riding in the back seat of the car at the time of the incident.

   Police now suspect the soldiers had been shooting a BB gun at pedestrians in the crowded, multicultural district of Itaewon and not an air gun, since plastic BB bullets were discovered inside the car. The bullets were the same ones collected near the subway station, they said.

   BB guns, which are mainly used for outdoor games, can cause pain if one is struck with a bullet, and may lead to the loss of eyesight in the worst case scenario.

  
An American Army soldier appeared before Seoul's Yongsan Police Station on March 4, 2013 for questioning over a car chase incident. (Yonhap)


According to police, the private first class who took the wheel tried to run over a police officer on a dead-end street, prompting the police officer to fire one warning shot, then three subsequent shots at the car. The driver was shot in the shoulder, but the three eventually fled to the U.S. base.

   The injured soldier is currently undergoing treatment for his wound in a military hospital and was said to be in stable condition. A police officer and two civilians suffered minor injuries and four cars were damaged in the high-speed chase, officials said.

   The vehicle used by the soldiers was discovered by police near the Yongsan base early Monday, which was sent to a forensic team for investigation.

   While the staff sergeant on Monday appeared before police with a U.S. representative and a lawyer, U.S. medical professionals have asked South Korean police to delay questioning of the private first class due to his injury.

   "U.S. military officials told us the private first class is not currently available for questioning because he is being hospitalized and taking painkillers," a police officer said, asking for customary anonymity. "We are in talks with U.S. military officials on when and how to proceed with the investigation."

   To speed up the process, officials said they could visit the military hospital on base to question the soldier if deemed necessary.

   Police said they plan to seek charges of obstruction of official duties and traffic violations against them.

   The U.S. military vowed full cooperation with the Korean authorities as they continue to gather facts related into the incident.

   "Although the exact details of this incident are still unfolding, we are continuing to work closely with the local authorities as they continue their investigation," Brig. Gen. Chris Gentry, Eighth Army deputy commanding general said in a release.

   About 28,500 American troops are stationed in South Korea to help deter North Korea, as the 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty.

   ejkim@yna.co.kr
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