Police: Korean worker left gate open before fire
Stars and Stripes March 29, 2006
SEOUL — A Korean Service Corps manager has admitted to South Korean police that he failed to lock a gate to a U.S. military compound less than two hours before a fire burned three buildings and injured three people, according to the South Korean police detective heading the investigation.
The manager, Lee Geun-sang, told police that he thought other service corps workers were trailing behind him on their way back from a night out, so he left the gate unlocked, according to Detective Oh Sang-seok, the leader of the violent crime investigation team at Yongsan-gu police station.
South Korean police have taken a woman into custody who claimed that night that she started the fire. She has not been charged and has refused to answer questions from police about how she got on base, Oh said.
The service corps employees — two managers and three workers — were returning to their office shortly after midnight to sleep after a night of dinner, drinking and Korean-style karaoke, Lee and others have told police since the March 16 fire.
But Lee also told police he found the gate, called Gate 22, unlocked, and police suspect another service corps manager who was ahead of Lee also failed to secure the gate, which is near Yongsan Garrison’s Gate 1 and the scene of the fire.
The other manager, Kim Jin-su, has told police he locked the gate after passing through with one other worker. But on Monday, another service corps worker contradicted his statement, Oh said.
Both managers escaped the fire unharmed. Three workers, who do not have keys to the gate, were burned and remain hospitalized, Oh said Monday.
A U.S. Forces Korea spokesman declined to comment Monday about the accessibility of the gate that night. No administrative action has been taken against any service corps worker to date in relation to the fire, spokesman David Oten said.
Korean National Police, working with military fire and police officials, are leading the investigation. The cause of the fire remained unknown Monday.
South Korean police also are investigating this week whether four other corps workers also returned to their headquarters’ office that night, which was the dinner and presidential election night for the service corps union.
The fire was first reported shortly after 1:30 a.m. It drew nearly 200 firefighters and took more than three hours to bring under control. It swept through three buildings, two on Yongsan Garrison and a third on the Korean Service Corps compound.