School Staff Face Possible Gross Negligence Charges Over Dormitory Fire that Killed 17 Girls in Chiang Rai
CHIANG RAI – Deputy Commissioner of Provincial Police Region 5, Pol Maj Gen Songtham said police had not yet reached a conclusion about the cause of the fire in the dormitory of Pitakkiat Wittaya School in Chiang Rai’s Wiang Pa Pao district Sunday.
Maj Gen Songtham said a thorough investigation must be carried out to ensure justice, as staff at the school may face charges for gross negligence over the fire that killed 17 school girls.
The Deputy Commissioner’s statement comes after National Police Chief, Pol Gen Chakthip Chaijinda asked the Deputy Commissioner to work harder to win back public trust by being thorough with their investigation.
On Thursday, Pol Maj Gen Songtham led a team of forensic officials, electrical engineers and other experts to examine the fire scene and collect more evidence before discussing the matter with the main investigation team.
The team found remnants of four fluorescent light fixtures among the charred ruins on the ground floor of the dormitory. They believe the fire erupted on the ground floor, said Pol Maj Gen San Sukkhawat, head of the regional police forensic science centre.
Only the metal structure of the fixtures remained after the fire. That points to the possibility that a pair of lamp holders, which consisted of a plastic component, might have come loose as a result of accumulated heat, sparking a fire which fell on a stack of clothing underneath it, Pol Maj Gen San said.
Some experts on the team noted accidents caused by the sparking of loose fluorescent lamp holders were not uncommon, he said.
Pol Maj Gen San said the team found burnt fluorescent light fixtures on the first floor of the building as well. However, a closer inspection confirmed they had not malfunctioned but were burnt from below, further reinforcing the theory the flames came from the ground floor.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha assigned Deputy Education Minister Surachet Chaiwong to visit the injured victims of Sunday’s fire at a local hospital where they were being treated.
The premier had instructed the ministry to look upon the Chaing Rai tragedy “as a lesson” to devise more effective measures to raise safety standards in state-owned and privately-run school dormitories, Lt Gen Surachet said.
Education Minister Gen Dapong Ratanasuwan ordered the Office of the Basic Education Commission to publish a manual outlining safety procedures on disaster preparedness and responses for teachers and students nationwide.
The Chiang Rai hill tribe development centre under the Social Development and Human Security Ministry, meanwhile, insisted the hill tribe students killed in the inferno held Thai nationality and their families have the right to full compensation.
Following the tragedy, a bank account was opened to receive donations from the public to help the families of the fire victims. At least 3.3 million baht has been transferred to the account.
Those who wish to give donations to the fire victims can transfer money to the Special Administration Center’s bank account number 012-3-98314-9, account name: Help Fire Victims in Wiang Pa Pao district, Kasikorn Bank, Tha Pae branch, Chiang Mai, or the bank account number 984-5-08105-3, account bank name: Help Fire Victims from Phithakkiat School, Wiang Pa Pao district, Chiang Rai, Krung Thai Bank, Wiang Pa Pao branch.
People can also directly donate money at Wiang Pa Pao District Office.
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