Suspect in deadly Kaohsiung fire detained

10/15/2021 11:53 PM
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CNA photo Oct. 15, 2021
CNA photo Oct. 15, 2021

Kaohsiung, Oct. 15 (CNA) The Kaohsiung District Court on Friday issued an order for the detention of a woman on suspicion of negligent homicide in connection with a building fire that claimed 46 lives and injured dozens of others in the city's Yancheng District the previous day.

The 51-year-old woman surnamed Huang (黃) and her 52-year-old boyfriend, identified by his last name Kuo (郭), were questioned by the Kaohsiung District Prosecutors Office earlier Friday over their suspected involvement in the blaze.

Prosecutors found that Huang had lit sandalwood incense in a room on the ground floor of the building but failed to snuff it out completely before she left, leading to the fire.

Prosecutors filed a request with the Kaohsiung District Court to have Huang detained on suspicion of negligent homicide and endangering public safety at the end of the questioning, which lasted eight hours.

The prosecutors' request was approved by the court late Friday.

Kuo, meanwhile, was released on NT$60,000 bail given that his involvement in the case was less serious, prosecutors said.

The fire broke out on the ground floor of the 40-year-old 13-story building in the early hours on Thursday. Most of the victims were senior citizens living in about 120 units from the seventh to 11th floors.

It is the second deadliest building fire in Taiwan ever after the blaze at Weierkang Club in Taichung that killed 64 people in February 1995.

Evidence gathered by investigators so far points to the starting point of the fire being a small room at the back of a shop selling tea items on the building's ground floor.

On Wednesday evening, Kuo and Huang were drinking alcohol with another man in the small room, but Kuo later left the room, possibly after a quarrel with his girlfriend, followed shortly thereafter by the other man, according to an investigation by prosecutors.

Huang was the last person to leave the room, and the fire started shortly after she left, the investigation showed.

Based on video footage collected from a nearby roadside surveillance camera, Huang left the site at 2:16 a.m. Thursday, prosecutors said, noting that someone had reported the incident to the police after smoke was seen coming out of the room at 2:40 a.m.

During questioning, Huang admitted to have lit sandalwood incense as she believed it could repel mosquitoes, prosecutors said, noting that there were inconsistencies in her statements throughout the interrogation.

One such example involved what she did with the incense before she left the room.

At one point, prosecutors said Huang remarked that she threw the incense in the dustbin, but then changed her tune, saying she could not remember what she did with it.

According to the Kaohsiung prosecutors office, Huang denied setting the fire on purpose.

(By Hung Hsueh-kuang and Ko Lin)

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