Elderly man found dead on beach had fled from welfare home

Elderly man found dead on beach had fled from welfare home
The Tembusu Home in Buangkok. Photo: Screenmap from Google Maps
Published: 4:00 AM, April 21, 2017

SINGAPORE — Unhappy with having to stay at a home for destitutes, an elderly man took the chance to flee during a visit to a polyclinic in Hougang. He was found a day later after an angler came across his body washed up ashore at Changi Beach, the court heard yesterday at a Coroner’s Inquiry.

After the hearing, State Coroner Marvin Bay withheld his findings to be delivered on May 3, questioning the processes that the home has for missing residents.

Poh Hwe Chee, 70, had a history of depression, dating back to a suicide attempt in November 2014.

When his stepdaughter suggested selling the family home that year, Poh tried to kill himself and also tried to burn down their three-room flat in Jurong.

He was hospitalised for a month, and after being discharged, he discovered that he had been locked out of the flat.

Poh was sent to Tembusu Home in Buangkok after that incident. For the next two years, he lived in the home.

On Nov 8 last year, a Tembusu Home employee accompanied Poh to a check-up at Hougang Polyclinic.

At around 5pm, as the employee was collecting the medication and paying the bill, Poh left the clinic.

Despite searching the vicinity for between 30 minutes and an hour, Poh could not be found.

The employee reported his disappearance to the home, and a duty officer informed the police.

The following day, at around 11.30pm, an angler found Poh lying face down at Changi Beach. His body was fully clothed, and his wallet was found nearby.

An autopsy revealed that Poh had paracetamol, codeine and ethanol in his body at the time of death.

During the hearing yesterday, Investigation Officer (IO) Kenneth Lee told the court that Poh was known to be a drinker, based on past records from the Ministry of Social and Family Development.

However, he could not explain the presence of codeine in Poh’s urine, given that he had not been taking any cough medication.

There were also nine injuries — some of which were bruises — on the body. IO Lee attributed some of these injuries to a fight that Poh had with another Tembusu Home resident a week ago, and the others to the impact of his body hitting rocks in the sea.

The autopsy found that the injuries had been caused by blunt force trauma, and had not contributed to death.

However, State Coroner Bay wanted more clarity on this, and asked the IO to check with the pathologist whether Poh could have been involved in another fight during his disappearance.

He also asked if Poh could have fallen into the sea accidentally. IO Lee said: “The suicide was intentional ... He placed his belongings about 40m from the sea. The wallet being left at the shoreline (suggested that) he had every intention of wanting people to know who he was.”

Mr Bay then directed the IO to check with Tembusu Home on whether it had improved its processes for unaccounted residents since the incident.