07 March, 2010

A Meeting at the Mekong Club

Ngoc Dang was born in 1957 in Saigon, one of a large number of children in a poor family. All the kids went to work from an early age. After the fall of Saigon, he worked on a collective farm for some time, before escaping to a refugee camp in Malaya, and on to Australia. He became a citizen, and was eventually joined here by his family, who lived together in Bossley Park. Dang moved out after his marriage in 1993.

He worked at Streets Icrecream for several years, eventually being retrenched with a large payout in 1997. Following this, he spent most of his time at the Mekong Club in Cabramatta drinking and gambling. On Friday 24 April 1998, he'd been at the Club for a longtime, only leaving briefly to pop home for a meal.

Van Hong also decided to spend his Friday night at the Mekong Club with some friends. He was having a good time, and having a fair bit to drink, particularly as it was a public holiday the next day (Anzac Day). He had already made himself known to security staff at the Club, by wearing a red baseball cap, which they had to ask him to remove on quite a few occasions.

At around 11pm he was sitting with Ngoc Dang and another friend, when they started arguing. Hong ended up punching Dang, who fell backwards and hit his head on the table. Hong then picked Dang up by the hair and pulled him back into his chair. He bought Dang a drink. Things seemed to be OK between the two met.

Hong ended up leaving the Club around 1am with with his friend Tu Phu Le. Le was arguing with Hong, telling him he shouldn't have hit Dang, because Dang was older than Hong. It was a matter of honour and respect. Hong didn't particularly agree with Le's point of view, and they began pushing and shoving each other outside on the footpath of the Club.

Around this time Dang, who had also left the Club, came rushing up to the men holding a pistol. Hong said to him "Fuck your mum. You want to play with me?" Dang raised the pistol and fired four shots, aimed directly at Hong. Three shots hit Hong, two in the head and one in the neck. He died instantly. The fourth shot hit Le in the head, causing what is described as a 'gutter' injury (a long gouge). Le was rushed to hospital and survived.

When the police first arrived there was a lot of confusion, and the people arrested were actually Le's friends who took him to the hospital. As a result, Dang managed to get away. He immediately went down to Melbourne where his sister lived, although she later told police he did not arrive until July. She said he stayed there only briefly, and left his car in her garage.

Based on witness reports police issued a warrant for his arrest. By November Dang found it too hard to hide anymore, and turned himself in with his solicitor at Cabramatta Police station. He did not tell them where the pistol was, and it has never been found. He was charged with the murder of Hong, and the malicious wounding of Le. He eventually pleaded guilty to both charges.

According to Dang he bought the pistol two months before the shooting to protect himself and his family. He claimed they had been threatened, although he did not say by whom. He also said there were drug dealers in the area, and so he felt it was necessary to carry this gun at all times, loaded, including inside the Mekong Club.

Dang's lawyers argued that he regretted the shame he brought to his family, so much so that he has severed all contact with his wife and children. He also felt that he was at risk in jail from friends of Hong's, and requested to be placed in protective custody. Dang told the court that he was not a violent person, but the Judge found this a bit difficult to believe, given that he had taken to arming himself with a loaded weapon at all times, even on social occasions.

Dang's lawyers also arguned that there were a number of mitigating factors in Dang's favour, including the fact that there had some level of provocation by Van Hong on the night, and that the offence was not a premeditated, but rather a hot-blooded response. He had no prior criminal record, had surrendered himself voluntarily (although seven months later) and was facing a particularly harsh sentence if served in protective custody. He was also quite drunk at the time.

Nonetheless the Judge found that the circumstances of the shooting were still extremely serious, particularly his use of a loaded gun in a public place. Further, witnesses described him as only being 'middle drunk', and the Crown urged that this should not be taken into account.

Taking everything into consideration, the Judge sentenced Dang to 16 years imprisonment, with a non-parole period of 12 years for the murder of Van Hong. For the malicious wounding of To Phu Le he was sentenced to three years, to be served at the same time.

He will be released on 3 November 2010.


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