Thai pub owner charged in connection with deadly fire

BANGKOK (AP) — The owner of a music pub in eastern Thailand where a fire last week killed 15 people and injured more than three dozen others was released on bail when he appeared in court Monday to hear criminal charges against him.

Pongsiri Panprasong, owner of the Mountain B pub in Sattahip district of Chonburi province, about 160 kilometers (100 miles) southeast of Bangkok, came forward late on Saturday. Police charged the 27-year-old with causing death by negligence and operating an entertainment venue without a permit. He could face up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to 200,000 baht ($5,580).

When he appeared in court on Monday, he was released on bail of 300,000 baht ($8,390) on the condition that he wear a tracking device.

Live bands regularly played on a stage in the pub, including when the fire started early on Friday morning on the ceiling above them. The police have said that the place was only licensed to operate as a restaurant.

The scene of the fire, which happened in the early hours of Friday morning, remained cordoned off on Monday as forensic police and building inspectors worked to determine the cause of the fire and whether the pub had met building standards.

“I’m sorry. I want to say sorry to the families of the victims,” ​​Pongsiri told reporters through a window in the back of a police detention van at the Pattaya court. Pongsiri, whose face was hidden by a mask, a hat and a towel, said he will compensate the victims.

Many of those injured in the fire suffered serious burns that left them in a critical condition. Thirteen died at the scene, one more at a hospital on Friday and the 15th victim, Thanakrit Neenoi, died on Saturday. His sister told local media that Thanakrit went to the pub with his wife and friends to celebrate his birthday. His wife remains in the hospital for treatment.

The Governor of Bangkok, Thailand’s largest city, said on Saturday that the city had inspected more than 400 entertainment venues in the city before the fire and found 83 places not complying with safety standards. Chadchart Sittipunt told reporters the venues would be ordered closed if they did not act to fix their problems.

66 people were killed and more than 200 injured in a fire during a New Year’s celebration on 1 January 2009 at the Santika nightclub in Bangkok. The fire was apparently started by an indoor firework. Toxic smoke flooded the venue and added to the death toll as the entire club caught fire.

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