Seoul, South Korea – South Korean police are seeking criminal charges, including manslaughter and negligence, against 23 officials, about half of whom are law enforcement officers, over a lack of security measures they say was responsible for awhich killed nearly 160 people, including .
Despite anticipating a weekend crowd of more than 100,000, Seoul police had assigned 137 officers to the Itaewon nightlife district on the day of the crash. These officers focused on monitoring drug use and violent crime, which experts said left few resources for pedestrian safety.
Son Je-han, who led the National Police Agency’s special investigation into the incident, said Friday his team would now send the case to prosecutors. Those recommended for indictment include Park Hee-young, who is mayor of Seoul’s Yongsan district, and former district police chief Lee Im-jae – two of the six who have been arrested.
Lee was also accused of falsifying a police report to conceal his late arrival at the scene. Two other officers were arrested on suspicion of attempting to destroy computer files and other potential evidence related to the incident.
The results of the 74-day police investigation announced by Son mainly confirmed what was already clear – that police and officials in Yongsan did not use meaningful crowd control measures for the expected number of revelers in Halloween and essentially ignored calls from pedestrians to police hotlines who warned of a growing crowd hours before the wave turned deadly on October 28.
Officials also botched their response once people began to roll over and crash into a narrow alley crowded with revelers near the Hamilton Hotel around 10 p.m., failing to establish effective control of the scene and to allow rescuers to reach the injured in time, Son said.
“(Their) inaccurate judgment of the situation, slow dissemination of information on the situation, poor cooperation between the institutions involved and delays in rescue operations are among the overlapping failures and have caused the high number of victims,” Son said at a press conference in Seoul.
Son said his team interviewed nearly 540 people and collected 14,000 pieces of evidence from central and municipal government offices and transport authorities. He said police investigators studied more than 180 video files recorded on security cameras or taken by reporters and pedestrians, and jointly inspected the scene with forensic experts to analyze crowd density.
Police said the crowd filling the hallway-like driveway between the hotel and a dense row of storefronts grew into an unstoppable wave around 9 p.m., with people unable to dictate their movement once they were taken away. Around 10:15 p.m., people began falling and toppling over each other like dominoes, leading to the tragedy that left 158 dead and 196 injured.
Analysis of security camera footage and simulations by the National Forensic Service indicates crowd density in the aisle was around eight people per square yard around 10:15 p.m. Density increased to eight to nine people occupying the same unit of space as of 10:8 a.m. and about nine to 11 people as of 10:25 p.m., police said.
Paramedics struggled to reach the scene because the area was so densely populated. Those who arrived were so overwhelmed by the large number of people lying motionless on the ground that they asked pedestrians to help them perform CPR. Most of the deaths were caused by suffocation or brain damage, police said.
It’s unclear whether the results of the police investigation would be enough to quell public anger and government demands for accountability as the country continues to grapple with its worst disaster in nearly a decade.
Opposition lawmakers and some relatives of the victims have called for investigations into more high-profile figures, such as Interior and Security Minister Lee Sang-min and National Police Commissioner General Yoon Hee-keun , who were called upon to resign.
However, Son said the special investigation team would close its investigations into the Ministry of Interior and Security, the National Police Agency and the Seoul Metropolitan Government, saying it was difficult to establish. their direct responsibility.
Some experts called the Itaewon crash a ‘man-made disaster’ that could have been avoided by fairly simple measures, such as employing more police and officials to monitor bottleneck points. , enforcing one-way traffic lanes, and blocking narrow lanes or temporarily closing Itaewon. subway station to prevent a large number of people from moving in the same direction.
The Americans who lost their lives were Anne Gieske, a student at the University of Kentucky, and Steven Blesi, a student at Kennesaw State University, their schools said in statements.
Gieske was a nursing student in her freshman year, University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto said in a letter to the community. Gieske was from northern Kentucky and had studied abroad in South Korea during the semester, Capilouto said.
CBS Lexington affiliate WKYT-TV reported that Gieske was a member of his school’s Korean language and culture club.
Blesi was an international business student at Kennesaw State University in Georgia and was one of 11 students studying in South Korea as part of a study abroad program, the official said. ‘school.