Itaewon eatery owner sympathetic to soldier blamed for fire
January 17, 2009
The South Korean movie star whose Itaewon restaurant was damaged in a New Year’s Day fire is asking authorities to pardon the U.S. soldier suspected of setting the fire.
Hong Suk-chon, an actor who co-owns My Thai China with his sister, pulled the soldier from the fire that caused more than $1,000 in damage to his restaurant on Jan. 1.
Still, Hong, 37, said this week he feels the mistakes of a 22-year-old man shouldn’t follow him for the rest of his life.
"It caused no damage to human life, and he didn’t do it intentionally," Hong said in a phone interview on Wednesday.
The soldier is suspected of starting a fire behind the restaurant in the early morning of Jan. 1, after a night of drinking. Police suspect he set the fire to keep warm and then passed out. The soldier was too drunk for questioning later that day, police said.
Yongsan police said Thursday they expected to forward the case to prosecutors late this week or next week. The U.S. military also is investigating the case; the soldier remains under U.S. authority, according to 8th U.S. Army spokesman Maj. Jerome Pionk.
Neither the South Korean police nor 8th Army officials would provide the soldier’s name or other details.
It’s unclear whether Hong’s plea will persuade prosecutors. But the gesture could help at sentencing, a Yongsan police officer said. South Korean judges often use the victim’s requests for mercy or punishment when considering the final penalties.
Hong said the soldier’s commander visited him to make a formal apology, as did the soldier. Both gestures helped persuade him to call for forgiveness.
"He looked [like] a good man when he was not drunk," Hong said of the soldier through a translator. "He said ‘sorry’ very sincerely and deeply. That moved my mind. I would like to give this young man a second chance."