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Four Charged in Fire at Paraguay Market

A co-owner and three guards are accused of manslaughter and jailed as the death toll hits 409.

August 04, 2004|From Reuters

ASUNCION, Paraguay — An owner of a supermarket destroyed by fire over the weekend was jailed Tuesday along with three security guards on manslaughter charges as the death toll rose to 409.

Criminal Judge Pedro Dario Portillo said the investigation into Sunday's blaze would take about four months. Under Paraguayan law, the charges will then be either confirmed or dropped. If convicted, the accused face up to 15 years in prison.

Officials said a guard told them that he was ordered to lock the exits of the Ycua Bolanos supermarket during the fire, apparently to stop people from stealing. Survivors said they found doors locked as they fled.

Supermarket co-owner Juan Pio Paiva has denied that there was an order to lock the doors. Security guards Ever Sanchez, Ismael Alcaraz and Jorge Penayo were also charged and jailed.

The state prosecutor's office said 454 people were injured.

Officials said a gas explosion caused the blaze.

"Early evidence suggests that it was a regrettable accident made worse by a later decision to close up the building. This caused the catastrophic consequences," Vice President Luis Castiglioni told reporters.

Many survivors said the doors were locked, and in one case welded shut. State prosecutor Edgar Sanchez said one of the guards had said he received orders to close the doors but did not know who had given them.

"The guard ... said in his statement that he received the order by radio to close the doors, and this he did," Sanchez said.

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