He has tried to kill himself twice — once when he was in his 30s, and the second time in 2011, shortly after he was evicted from his home.
On May 30 this year, 70-year-old Tan Woon Teck fatally set himself on fire in a Geylang carpark — an act which the State Coroner on Thursday (Oct 27) ruled as a suicide in response to Tan losing his job over an alleged assault of a female colleague.
At about 10pm that night, Tan, who was fired as an assistant at a coffee shop three weeks earlier, doused himself in petrol from a metal can and set himself alight at an open carpark in Lorong Bachok, Geylang.
He burned for minutes with arms outstretched, even as passers-by rushed to douse the flames with a fire extinguisher and a pail of water.
Tan suffered extensive burns over 97 per cent of his body — only part of his groin was spared — and died from his injuries six hours later, the Coroner’s Court heard.
Tan’s medical history and criminal record showed that he was prone to “contemplate extreme measures to express his mounting grievance and despair from the travails and vicissitudes of his life”, said State Coroner Marvin Bay.
Tan was diagnosed with depression in 1976, after he was referred to Changi Prison Hospital for attempted suicide. He was then suffering from low mood and insomnia.
In 1986, he was charged with rape and again found to be depressed. The outcome of this case was not revealed in court.
A psychiatric assessment three years later recorded improvements in Tan’s sleep and mental state.
Still, being terminated from employment was a “major reversal” in his life that “evidently weighed heavily on him”, said Mr Bay.
An hour before the May 30 tragedy, Tan paid a visit to a long-term benefactor, Madam Teo Kim Hong, to thank her for all that she had done for him.
The court heard that Mdm Teo, who is in her 60s, had offered him shelter at the Nam Yeo Qigong Centre five years ago, after Tan was evicted from his previous residence in Lorong Bachok.
During their meeting, Tan told Mdm Teo that he was “in a very bad state” and “wanted to die”. He also “cryptically told her” to read the next day’s newspapers, the court heard.
Ruling out foul play, Mr Bay said an in-car camera of a TransCab taxi, where Tan stood next to before setting himself on fire, recorded him walking across the carpark to the spot where he committed suicide. Closed-circuit television footage from an Esso petrol station in Geylang also showed Tan buying petrol.
It was also highly unlikely for the blaze to have been set off by accident, said Mr Bay.
The petrol from the metal can was probably used to accelerate the start of the fire, or Tan’s clothes “would not have been spontaneously consumed (by the fire) with such intensity”, he added.