A minivan carrying gas tanks plowed into pedestrians near a prominent park in downtown Shanghai on Friday, injuring 18 people, local authorities reported.
Shanghai police said the crash was caused by a 40-year old man surnamed Chen who was smoking inside the van, accidentally igniting the gas he was transporting. Police appeared to dismiss fears the crash could have been an attack in the heart of the Chinese financial hub.
The driver and two other people suffered serious injuries in the crash. The driver works for a Shanghai metals company and had no criminal record but was now under suspicion for transporting dangerous materials, police said.
The minivan, registered in the southern province of Jiangxi, veered onto a sidewalk and burst into flames around 9 a.m. near People’s Park, authorities said. The vast city center plaza is also home to the headquarters of the Shanghai municipal government.
Videos on social media showed injured people lying on the pavement next to a Starbucks cafe and others pinned under the tires of the van. Firefighters were seen trying to put out a blaze inside the vehicle.
The Shanghai-based news outlet Pengpai, citing a witness, reported that the vehicle was carrying six people and several tanks of gas when it caught fire and crashed through a sidewalk railing. Several pedestrians rushed to break the car window to pull out the apparently unconsciously driver, the witness told the Shanghai outlet.
While indications showed the crash was an accident, vehicle driven terrorist attacks have killed scores globally in recent years.
In China, five people, including 3 attackers, were killed in 2013 when a 4×4 vehicle plowed through a crowd in front of Tiananmen Gate in the center of Beijing. The attack was blamed on separatist extremists from the Turkic Muslim Uighur ethnic group native to northwestern China.
Friday’s accident occurred just as British Prime Minister Theresa May was speaking at a business event in the city. May’s speech was at a forum in the Lujiazui district on the opposite side of the Huangpu River from People’s Park.
Other speakers at the event included Li Shufu, the chairman of Chinese carmaker Geely and Nobel Prize-winning physicist Kostya Novoselov.
May on Thursday met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing as part of her three-day visit aimed at establishing a new trading relationship after Britain leaves the European Union.