Chinese police said Thursday they had detained a young couple suspected of burying a woman alive after running her down in their car, in a case that has caused a storm of public anger.
Police in east China's Zhejiang province suspect the couple hit the 68-year-old woman while driving home from a night of drinking at a karaoke bar on April 30 and buried her to avoid punishment, the China Daily newspaper said.
"It's certain the woman was not dead when buried," a Zhejiang police officer surnamed Zhou told the China Daily.
"Legal medical experts detected particles identical to those in the surrounding soil in her lungs, which indicates she was still breathing."
A local police officer contacted by telephone confirmed the pair, both aged 25, had been detained and were suspected of burying the woman.
It is not clear whether they knew that the woman was still alive when they buried her. Her body was found buried near a remote construction site on May 1, not far from the car allegedly driven by the young couple.
The case has reignited the debate over a perceived decline of public morals among China's increasingly wealthy population after the death last year of a two-year-old girl who was ignored by passers-by as she lay injured in the street after being run over.
"We must look for the causes of (such behaviour) in China's education and social systems," posted one user of popular microblogging service Sina weibo.
"I guess this couple are bitter white-collar workers, who have housing and car loans to pay and family to support. But that is not a reason to tolerate this," posted another.
The case also raised comparisons with that of Yao Jiaxin, a 21-year-old music student who murdered a young mother after hitting her with his car in the northern city of Xian in 2010.
The victim only suffered minor injuries but instead of helping her, Yao stabbed her eight times before fleeing the scene.
He was later caught and executed, reportedly admitting that he killed her because he feared the "peasant woman would be hard to deal with".
His case prompted hand-wringing over the country's so-called "rich second generation", the wealthy offspring of people who have prospered in China's boom.