The Gwangju District Court on Friday issued an arrest warrant for an 81-year-old man accused of starting a hospital fire that killed 21 and injured eight others.
The suspect, only identified by his surname Kim, is accused of deliberately torching a hospital for the elderly in Jangseong, South Jeolla Province, on Wednesday. He was charged with causing death by arson.
“There are legitimate reasons to believe that (Kim) has committed the crime, and there is also a risk that the suspect may flee,” said the court.
Although Kim has denied the charges, he was pinpointed as the culprit after CCTV footage showed him carrying an unidentified object into the room where the fire started. The fire broke out soon after Kim left the room empty-handed.
Earlier in the day, the South Jeolla Provincial Police Agency said Kim may have started the fire to escape from the convalescent facility, based on his claims that he had been admitted at the hospital against his will.
The elderly suspect had been showing signs of senile dementia since he was diagnosed with cerebral infarction two years ago. His family told the police that they decided to place him in professional care after a family meeting.
Kim reportedly has been attempting to escape since the day he was admitted on May 1, even managing to successfully reach his former home on one occasion.
The probe on the deadly fire also showed that poisonous gas emitted from the burning mattresses in the room may have led to the high number of casualties, according to the Damyang Fire Station.
“Even young people can lose consciousness after breathing in just a small amount of the poisonous gas. The gas may have made the elderly patients too weak to escape,” an official from the fire department said.
Authorities are investigating to see if the hospital is in any way responsible for the deaths of 21 victims, which included 20 patients and an auxiliary nurse. South Jeolla Province police on Thursday raided the hospital and confiscated documents such as medical records and fire safety procedures.
The accusations on the hospital include the claims that it allocated far fewer nurses than required by the law, which is one for every six patients.
The families of the victims have also claimed that the hospital, for the purpose of easier patient management, bound the patients’ hands and sedated them. Some firefighters also told the local media that they had to cut restraints on the patients’ hands to rescue them.
The hospital and the fire department publicly denied the allegations. Investigators plan to use lie detector tests on the cited rescue workers to verify their claims while conducting autopsies on the victims.
By Yoon Min-sik (firstname.lastname@example.org)