Tuesday, April 02, 2013 6:53 pm
Prosecutors file murder charges in Brazil fire
By STAN LEHMANAssociated Press
The Jan. 27 fire roared through the crowded, windowless Kiss nightclub in the city of Santa Maria, filling the air with flames and thick, toxic smoke.
Police have said the band performing at the club lit a flare that ignited flammable soundproofing foam on the ceiling, releasing a deadly combination of cyanide, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide.
Prosecutor David Medina told a Tuesday news conference that the nightclub's two owners and two band members were charged with murder.
"The owners of the nightclub and the members of the band were fully aware of the danger the public faced and could have foreseen the result, but they took no action or were indifferent to the risks," Medina said. "Fireworks were used in a place that was completely inappropriate for any kind of flame. There was wood, curtain and unfortunately a lot of people."
"There were insufficient and poorly lit exits," he added.
Two firefighters who allegedly tried to show that the nightclub had passed safety inspection tests were charged with evidence tampering. Police have said that minimum safety and fire prevention measures were not in place. An accountant and a former partner of the nightclub were charged with perjury.
Brazilian authorities have often turned a blind eye to safety and infrastructure concerns about public gathering places. The disaster, the worst fire of its kind in more than a decade, raised questions about whether safety can be ensured in such venues as the country prepares to host next year's World Cup and the 2016 Olympics.
Prosecutors have asked police to investigate the involvement of four additional people in the nightclub fire. They are the mother and sister of one of the owners who are listed as partners in the nightclub and the two city officials who granted the club an operating permit.
Prosecutors filed the charges with a state judge who is expected to rule in about two weeks whether to accept the charges and bring those named to trial.
Police said on March 22 that the mayor and fire chief of Santa Maria could also be held responsible for the accident because of the faulty safety inspections of the nightclub.
But because Mayor Cezar Schirmer is an elected official, only the Rio Grande do Sul State Supreme Court and the city's legislature can determine if he will be charged. Only a military court can charge the fire chief, because the department is under the control of the police, which is part of the military.
The blaze began around 2:30 a.m. during a performance by Gurizada Fandangueira, a country music band that used pyrotechnics during its shows. The band's guitarist said that the 615 square-meter (6,650-square-foot) club was packed with about 1,200-1,300 people. The police have said the capacity for a club of that size is less than 700 people.
Kiss apparently had no alarm or sprinkler system and only one working exit, leaving the crowd to search desperately for a way out.
About 50 victims were found in the club's two bathrooms, where they crowded after blinding smoke evidently caused them to believe the doors were exits.