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Smoking Driver Lights Van On Fire, Crashes (Video)

Smoking Driver Lights Van On Fire, Crashes (Video) Promo Image

A Chinese driver smoking a cigarette accidentally ignited a fire inside a van carrying fuel canisters, causing a crash that injured 18 (video below).

After accidentally setting the van on fire, the 40-year-old man -- known only by his surname, Chen -- lost control of the vehicle and hit pedestrians near a Starbucks, reports The New York Times.

While the driver and injured pedestrians were rushed to the hospital, none are in mortal danger.

At first, a local Chinese media outlet reported there were several people in the van, indicating more injuries. However, the article was removed and later replaced by a statement from the government.

A Starbucks spokeswoman said customers inside the coffee shop were not injured and the location was not damaged.

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"We were saddened to hear about the accident that took place outside of our Store on Nanjing Road," the spokeswoman said, reports HuffPost. "Our heartfelt thoughts go out to those who were injured as a result of this incident. We are grateful no partners (employees) or store customers were injured and are focused on supporting them during this time."

Kevin Ye, who was across the street from the Starbucks, recalls the terrifying moment the smoke-filled van crashed.

"I immediately heard a woman screaming and saw people inside of the Starbucks trying to rush out," he said.

Other witnesses recall seeing several people trapped under the van after the incident, while passerby used stones to break a window to free the driver, the South China Morning Post reports.

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Thankfully, the fire was extinguished quickly and none of the canisters exploded.

It's not clear what exactly Chen was doing with the canisters, but police say Chen may have been "illegally transporting dangerous substances."

He is suspected of running an illegal business transporting liquefied petroleum gas canisters, reports Reuters.

News of the incident had initially sparked concern that this was a deliberate attack before officials deemed it an accident.

In the past, frustrated citizens have used vehicles and explosions to protest authorities.

Nearly 40 people were injured and five died after a vehicle drove into a crowded sidewalk and exploded near China's Forbidden City in 2013.

Two of the suspects were from Xinjiang, a Chinese region whose ethnic Uighur population was upset over government policies.

"This was not some driver who took a wrong turn and accidentally ended up on the sidewalk," one witness said.

Four years earlier, three people set themselves and their vehicles on fire in a street near Tiananmen Square to protest land seizures.

Sources: The New York Times (2, 3), HuffPost, Reuters, South China Morning Post / Featured Image: Paolo Neo via Wikimedia Commons / Embedded Images: AKS.9955/Wikimedia CommonsBeemwej/Wikimedia Commons

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