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Hotel chief fined for safety violation in Itaewon tragedy trial

Nov. 29, 2023 - 13:44 By Yoon Min-sik
The chief of Hamilton Hotel addresses the media at Seoul Western District Court in Seoul on Wednesday. (Yonhap)

Seoul Western District Court on Wednesday handed down a fine of 8 million won ($6,200) to the chief of the Hamilton Hotel, holding him responsible for an illegal structure next to the hotel is thought to have exacerbated last year's deadly crowd crush in Itaewon, Seoul.

The owner, identified by his surname Lee, has been charged with violating South Korea's Building Act by adding a structure to the hotel building without a proper permit. The structure resulted in the alley adjacent to the Hamilton Hotel narrowing to a width of little more than 3 meters, creating a dangerous bottleneck at the site which saw 159 deaths and nearly 200 injuries.

Lee was also indicted for violating the Road Traffic Act as the structure infringed on a public road, but the court cleared him of this particular charge.

In relation to the illegal structure in question, the court also handed down fines of 5 million won and 1 million won, respectively, to the owners of bars in the Itaewon alley that also erected illegal structures.

The defendants expressed their regrets to the bereaved families of the tragedy, but did not issue other statements to the press.

The fatal crowd rush occurred on Oct. 29, 2022, amid Halloween festivities that were taking place in Itaewon-dong, a popular party district in Seoul. Hundreds of people were packed into the narrow alley beside the Hamilton Hotel, resulting in a crowd crush.

Most of the victims were young adults, and the incident was recorded as the deadliest crowd crush in the country's history. A subsequent government investigation found that that the response on the part of police leadership was inadequate, leading to legal consequences for those involved.