BEIJING -- A police officer was suspected of driving a police van drunk and killing five people in a central China crash that sparked angry crowds to smash and flip police cars in the latest burst of public anger against the authorities.
Wang Yinpeng, the head of a township police station in Henan province's Runan county, was charged with endangering public security after the van crashed into two street lamp poles Saturday afternoon, the official Xinhua News Agency said.
The poles fell, fatally crushing five victims and injuring three more.
The Runan county Propaganda Department said the officer was suspected of driving drunk, Xinhua reported.
Crowds surrounded the crashed van as well as two other police cars and two vans, and overturned and smashed them out of unhappiness with how the police were handling the crash, the Southern Metropolis Daily said.
The paper cited a witness as saying police arrived at the scene and apparently tried to move the bodies to a funeral parlor without first conducting an investigation.
The newspaper said that according to a family member, the victims were mostly farmers who were waiting for long-distance buses to take them to Zhejiang to find work.
Photos said to be taken at the scene were circulating on China's popular Sina Weibo, showing bodies lying face down on the road and overturned police cars with smashed windows, as well as large crowds.
Xinhua said the county police department has set up a special investigation team.
Reports of road rage and drunken driving have increased in Chinese media as auto sales have boomed and new drivers hit the streets with little training.
China has also seen more frequent protests, sometimes violent, that are sparked by one-off incidents that point to a deep-seated unhappiness with abuses of power and officials who see themselves as above the law.
Generally apolitical, the incidents spark a deep unease among authorities who worry they may spill out of control and go from attacks on local issues to challenges to the ruling Communist Party.
(This version CORRECTS name of department to propaganda, not publicity.)