17 06 2008

Apartment owner arrested over deadly blaze at disabled facility

Mainichi Daily News

16 June 2008


Yokohama — The owner of an apartment gutted by a fire that killed three of its disabled inhabitants was arrested Monday for starting the blaze, saying she had been involved in a spat with the residents, police said.

Keiko Shimura, 64, the owner of the Haimu Himawari apartment in Ayase, Kanagawa Prefecture, was arrested for murder and arson of an inhabited structure.

Shimura, who owned the apartment used to house intellectually disabled residents, admits to the allegations.

Three bodies believed to have belonged to residents were unearthed from the charred remains of the apartment after it burned down early on the morning of June 2. Another man remains in a serious condition following smoke inhalation from the fire, which also destroyed the adjacent home.

Police said Shimura was spotted in the area at about the time the fire at Haimu Himawari broke out, yet she failed to report the blaze and nobody could make contact with her until the afternoon of the same day. Police suspected Shimura may have known something about the fire and took her in for questioning. At first, she explained her failure to report the fire as being a result of having been disturbed by the blaze, but later admitted to lighting it, police said.

Haimu Himawari was used to communally house intellectually disabled patients trying to lead independent lives. Shimura owned the apartment, which she rented out to a welfare organization based in Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture. She had been the caretaker at the apartment until about 2004.

The fire at the apartment broke out just before 2:30 a.m. on June 2. The fire destroyed the apartment and three bodies, two men and a woman, were found in the remains. The other male inhabitant was seriously injured through smoke inhalation. The house next door to the apartment was also destroyed by the fire.

Police could not find anything that could have started the blaze spontaneously, so began to suspect arson and set up a task force to investigate the case on June 4. They later raided Shimura’s home in a search for evidence to support their case.




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