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Thursday, May 6, 1993 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Wah Mee Survivor Wai Chin Dies At Age 71

The lone survivor and crucial eyewitness to the Wah Mee massacre died of natural causes Monday.

Wai Y. Chin, born in Canton, China, was a frail, $10-an-hour dealer in the high-stake gambling club in the International District when the killings occurred on Feb. 18, 1983.

He was hog-tied, shot and left for dead with 13 other patrons and staff.

But Chin had only blacked out after being shot in the neck and jaw. When the gunman left, Chin stumbled out the door to the facing alley where he was discovered by people trying to get in.

Chin, who died at age 71, testified against all three defendants - Benjamin Ng, Kwan Fai "Willie" Mak, and Tony Ng - in three separate trials. At one point he testified he heard one of the shooters say, "Is that all the bullets?"

Chin knew Benjamin Ng for a year and Mak for a few weeks. He had never met Tony Ng, but identified him by sight in court. Police sources at the time said Chin may have survived because he was able to wriggle partly under a gaming table.

Doctors at Harborview Medical Center said he suffered a major relapse in the days after the shooting and was near death. A videotaped deposition was taken in 1983 because prosecutors feared he might die before testifying. Chin testifed before the original juries in the three trials.

Mak's death sentence was overturned by a federal appeal's court in 1991, but King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng announced today that a re-sentencing hearing will be held in an attempt to reinstate that death sentence.

Chin moved to the U.S. in 1938 at 16 to escape the fighting, after Japan had invaded China, and to join his father in the Seattle area.

He went to Seattle and Tacoma schools. He later worked as a housekeeper.

He joined the U.S. Navy in 1942 and served as a steward's mate and officer's cook. He was discharged in 1946. He continued to work as a cook, a salesman and a gaming dealer.

Chin was arrested in 1976 along with 10 other people in an FBI gambling raid. A dealer then, too, he pleaded guilty to failing to keep gambling records. He received a suspended three-month sentence and was ordered to pay a $197 fine.

Chin had been living in a nursing home and his health had been failing for some time.

Maleng lauded Chin's willingness to come forward.

"Wai Chin will be remembered for his bravery, honor and courage," the prosecutor said.

"Here is a man who had the presence of mind to feign death after being shot . . .

"He was then left there to face an almost certain death, but he survived and there is no question his assistance to police and his testimony at trial were instrumental in bringing Mak to justice."

Superior Court Judge William Downing, who prosecuted the case, said that although the community owes Chin gratitude, he should be remembered for more than his part in the Wah Mee case.

"I resist the notion that a few minutes of violence define his life," Downing said.

Copyright (c) 1993 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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