Itaewon crash: Investigation complete, 23 South Korean officials referred for prosecution

Itaewon crash: Investigation complete, 23 South Korean officials referred for prosecution

SEOUL: South Korean police wrapped up a months-long investigation on Friday into a deadly crowd stampede in the Itaewon neighborhood of the capital Seoul last year, with 23 government officials referred to prosecutors for fatal professional negligence and other charges. .

A special police investigation team concluded the crowd stampede was a “man-made” disaster due to the authorities’ failure to take disaster prevention measures and respond promptly to emergency situations, Yonhap reported.

The stampede killed 159 people, mostly women in their 20s, in the narrow, sloping lane on October 29 as people thronged the route. About 100,000 people gathered in the entertainment district that night for Halloween celebrations.

An investigative team of 501 officers began operating on Nov 1 and is probing the district office and police, fire and other related agencies in Yongsan, which governs Itaewon, to find out the cause of the fatal tragedy.

The investigative team concluded that no proper emergency rescue or disaster control measures were taken by each agency according to the relevant guidelines for emergency situations, which led to the high death toll.

Among those referred to the prosecution and detained are Yongsan district office chief Park Hee-young and former Yongsan Police Station chief Lee Im-jae, both on charges of professional negligence resulting in death.

Four other Yongsan district police and officers who were also referred to the prosecution and arrested include a former Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency (SMPA) officer accused of deleting an internal report warning of Halloween congestion and possible accidents.

SMPA chief Kim Kwang-ho, two other SMPA officials in charge of emergency monitoring, Yongsan Fire Station chief Choi Seong-beom, Yongsan community health center chief and Itaewon Subway Station chief were also referred to the prosecution for fatal professional negligence or other related charges.

Following the transfer of the case, prosecutors are expected to conduct further investigations to decide whether they will go on trial.

Meanwhile, the police investigation team decided not to arrest any officials of the interior ministry, the Seoul city government or the national police agency since they are not responsible for crowd control duties.

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