South Korean investigators seek manslaughter charges over deadly Halloween crush

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SEOUL, Jan. 13 (UPI) — South Korean police investigators are seeking charges including involuntary manslaughter and negligence for 23 government officials over the Halloween crowd crush that left 159 dead in Seoul, they announced Friday.

The team of investigators released the results of their monthslong inquiry into the October disaster, concluding that authorities failed to adequately prepare for the massive crowds expected to converge in the popular nightlife area of Itaewon.

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Officials then botched their response to the growing emergency, lead national police agency investigator Son Je-han said at a press conference.

“The negligence of organizations, such as inaccurate judgment of the situation, delay in spreading information about the situation, poor cooperation between related organizations and delay in relief measures, overlapped and resulted in many casualties,” Son said.

Among the officials referred to prosecutors for manslaughter charges are Yongsan ward office chief Park Hee-young and former Yongsan police station chief Lee Im-jae, who has been accused of falsifying a report about his late response to the scene.

Four other police and ward officials, including a Seoul Metropolitan police officer charged with attempting to cover up internal reports related to the incident, were also referred to prosecutors.

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Investigators also flagged the heads of the Yongsan fire station, the Yongsan community center and the nearby Itaewon subway station for charges of negligence.

While an estimated 100,000 revelers descended on Itaewon for Halloween, it was revealed that police dispatched just 137 officers to the neighborhood. A much larger contingent had been deployed to a nearby protest against President Yoon Suk-yeol on the same evening.

Public outrage grew as transcripts of calls to the police emergency hotline were released, with crowd members desperately calling for help and warning of potentially lethal conditions hours before the disaster.

Relatives of the victims and some opposition politicians have called for investigations into higher-ranking figures such as Interior Minister Lee Sang-min, who is the top security official in the country.

However, Son said Friday that investigators had wrapped up their probes of the interior ministry, the Seoul metropolitan government and the national police agency without recommending charges, saying it was “difficult to see that there is a specific violation of the duty of care, such as the possibility of predicting the occurrence of an accident.”