By Min Lee
The Associated Press
HONG KONG (AP) — A drunken American university student challenged a murder charge Monday, July 27, after being accused of causing the crash of a Hong Kong taxi and the death of its driver before commandeering the vehicle and slamming it into another cab.
Prosecutors said California State University, Chico student Kelsey Michael Mudd was more than three times over the legal alcohol limit on the day of the accident. The murder charge suggests they believe Mudd caused the accident.
The Hong Kong newspaper South China Morning Post newspaper reported earlier that Mudd was arguing with his driver before the crash.
Mudd’s lawyer, Ian Polson, argued in court that the crash “always was and is a traffic accident,” arguing there was no evidence that Mudd, 22, was behind the wheel during the accident that killed the driver.
“It’s been blown all out of proportion,” Polson told Acting Principal Magistrate Bina Chainrai.
Polson told reporters after Monday’s brief hearing that the alcohol test results are irrelevant because there is no evidence that Mudd was driving.
Mudd, who has not entered a plea, appeared in court with his hair shortly cropped and wearing a dark blue suit jacket over a checkered dress shirt and khaki pants. He did not show any emotion, but briefly glanced to the back of the courtroom, where his parents and friends were seated.
He was remanded into custody after Chainrai adjourned his case to Aug. 28 to allow more time for prosecutors to investigate. Polson said he plans to file a bail application in the coming weeks.
The South China Morning Post reported that Mudd had argued with the 58-year-old taxi driver before the accident. Local TV news footage of the scene of the crash, which has been uploaded onto YouTube, showed Mudd moving to the driver’s seat when a paramedic was treating him and speeding off in the taxi and hitting another cab head-on. He appeared unsteady when he was ordered out of the taxi by police after the second crash.
If convicted, Mudd faces a mandatory life sentence. Mudd’s father, Michael, told reporters that his son was holding up well in custody. “He’s strong. He’s done nothing wrong,” the father said.
The younger Mudd, who holds both American and Australian passports, was born in Hong Kong and moved to San Francisco at age 9. He is expected to graduate in December with a degree in geography and environmental studies, his father said.
Mudd was spending the summer volunteering at a Hong Kong charity that worked with disabled and disadvantaged children, according to a Web site created by his supporters. The Web site describes him as a “hard working, quiet, and responsible young man” who actively takes part in community service projects in Chico. It also includes a feature that allows visitors to make online contributions to Mudd’s legal defense.
Former British colony Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 but maintains separate political and legal systems. Unlike mainland China, Hong Kong does not have the death penalty. ♦