A South Korean panel referred 24 officials to prosecutors to face charges of professional negligence resulting in death over a crowd crush incident at a nightlife district in Seoul last October, which left 158 people dead.
A special police investigative panel said in a report released Friday that officials from the police, local district office, fire department and Seoul metro government failed in their responsibilities to prevent a man-made disaster, which was one of the country’s deadliest civilian incidents in its postwar history.
Six of the officials referred on the most serious charges, including the former chief of police in the Yongsan district of Seoul, where the incident occurred, and the head of the district office, have been arrested. Another 17 were charged without detention, with one of the officials charged having died of an apparent suicide.
No officials from the national government were referred to prosecutors over the incident when people were squeezed into a 3.2-meter (10.5ft) wide alleyway during Halloween festivities that authorities estimated attracted about 100,000 people. The alley was located near an exit for a subway station and has been a heavily-used passage for pedestrian traffic moving between a main street in the area and the restaurants, bars and nightclubs on the other side.
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol has apologised over the deadly incident and called for the investigation that he said would hold those responsible to account.
About 140 officers were deployed to the Itaewon nightlife area where the incident occurred, which was marking its first large-scale festivities in three years. Most of the officers were there mainly for crime prevention and authorities have been faulted for not doing more to control the crowd.
Experts have said the density of people packed in a narrow and restricted alley may have reached a level that made such a disaster almost inevitable. Witnesses and media reports indicate that as people squeezed into the alley, some began to fall, causing others to tumble and pile into one another.
Forces generated by crowd surges have been strong enough to bend steel bars, and the main cause of death is often asphyxiation, they said. – Bloomberg