Thai pub owner charged in deadly fire

BANGKOK (AP) – The owner of a music café in eastern Thailand, where 15 people died and more than three dozen others were injured last week, was brought before a court Monday to hear criminal charges against him.

Pongsiri Panprasong, owner of the Mountain B pub in the Sattahip district of Chonburi province, about 160 kilometers (100 miles) southeast of Bangkok, turned up late Saturday. Police have charged the 27-year-old with causing death by negligence and operating a nightlife venue without permission. He could face up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to 200,000 baht ($5,580).

Live bands regularly played on a stage in the pub, including when the fire started early Friday morning on the ceiling above. Police have said the location was only licensed to be used as a restaurant.

The site of the fire, which happened early Friday morning, remained closed on Monday as forensic police and building inspectors worked to determine the cause of the fire and whether the pub met building standards.

“I’m sorry. I want to apologize to the families of the victims,” ​​Pongsiri told reporters through a window at the back of a police prison van near the court in Pattaya. Pongsiri, whose face was hidden by a mask, hat and a towel, said he will compensate the victims.

Many of those injured in the fire suffered severe burns, leaving them in critical condition. Thirteen died at the scene, one more in a hospital on Friday and the 15th victim, Thanakrit Neenoi, died on Saturday. His sister told local media that Thanakrit went to the pub with his wife and friends to celebrate his birthday. His wife is in hospital for treatment.

The Governor of Bangkok, Thailand’s largest city, said Saturday that the city had inspected more than 400 nightspots in the city before the fire and found that 83 places did not meet safety standards. Chadchart Sittipunt told reporters the locations would be closed if they did nothing to fix their problems.

Sixty-six people were killed and more than 200 injured in a fire at a New Year’s Eve party on January 1, 2009, at the Santika nightclub in Bangkok. The fire is believed to have been caused by indoor fireworks. Toxic smoke engulfed the venue, adding to the death toll as the entire club caught fire.

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