Fatal fire on China bus 'started by driver'

BEIJING • A fire on a bus in China that killed 11 children is suspected to have been started by the driver who was angry about overtime and night-shift pay being cut, Xinhua news agency said yesterday.

The children aged between three and six were killed with the driver on May 9 when their bus crashed and burst into flames in a tunnel in Shandong province.

The bus had been taking the children to an international kindergarten in Weihai, a city across the Yellow Sea from South Korea.

Chinese officials said six of the children were from China and five from South Korea.

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The government of Weihai city said the investigation concluded that the blaze was a case of arson committed by the driver.

"The fire was started on the bus floor near the driver's seat. A lighter cap was discovered nearby and (petrol) residue found on multiple spots on the bus," Xinhua reported, citing provincial police. "Electricity faults and traffic accidents were ruled out as the cause of the fire."

The driver was found in the middle of the passenger seats, suggesting he might have been trying to rescue children trapped in the back of the vehicle, Yonhap said.

It added: "The driver's overtime and night-shift allowance had been suspended, angering him, causing him to buy (petrol) to set the fire."

The family of some of the South Korean victims, however, took issue with the official findings that the driver was to blame.

"Investigators did not look at the state of the vehicle, including how old it was" as a possible cause, Mr Kim Mi Suk, the father of one of the victims, told Yonhap news agency. "The unconvincing explanation by the Chinese government gives an impression that they were trying to frame it as a fault of the driver."

The driver was found in the middle of the passenger seats, suggesting he might have been trying to rescue children trapped in the back of the vehicle, Yonhap said. Another victim's father, Mr Lee Jung Kyu, said the families would demand the case be reinvestigated.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 03, 2017, with the headline 'Fatal fire on China bus 'started by driver''. Print Edition | Subscribe