A terminally ill cancer patient has been taken into custody after reportedly confessing to setting a fire in a room in a government-run hospital in Greater Tainan on Tuesday that left 12 people dead and 60 others injured, prosecutors said yesterday.
The Tainan District Court granted a request by prosecutors to detain the 69-year-old unmarried man, surnamed Lin (林), in the early hours of yesterday morning because he was suspected of committing murder and endangering public safety.
The Tainan Prosecutors’ Office said Lin, a colon-cancer patient who has been hospitalized in the long-term care ward at the Beimen Sinying branch of Tainan Hospital since late 2010, was reported missing after the pre-dawn fire was extinguished.
Police discovered Lin in an empty house near the hospital on Tuesday afternoon. Lin reportedly told police that he set fire to tissue paper, a quilt and some clothes with a lighter and threw them into an apparel storage room on the second floor of the hospital at about 3am on Tuesday.
Prosecutors said they would hold Lin in custody pending further investigation after scrutinizing surveillance footage.
Police said that during questioning, Lin attributed his arson attack mainly to “feeling bad and unhappy.”
“Lin is sane and usually gets along well with the staff, but he did become moody and agitated at times,” said Wu Cheng-tse (吳政哲), a manager at the long-term care ward.
The fire allegedly set by Lin was extinguished in less than an hour, but it caused heavy casualties, in part because most of the patients in the ward were seriously ill and unable to move on their own, with some relying on machines or tubes to stay alive, firefighters said.
According to data compiled by the Greater Tainan Government’s Fire Department, four patients suffocated to death from smoke inhalation, while eight others died on the way to nearby hospitals.
Fifty-eight other patients, who suffered mainly from smoke inhalation, are still receiving treatment at 13 medical institutions in Tainan and neighboring Chiayi County, a Department of Health official said, adding that 12 of them are staying in regular wards and the remaining 46 are in intensive care units.
Two other injured patients were released from hospital after receiving treatment, the official said.
The Beimen Sinying branch of the hospital specializes in caring for mentally ill patients and those suffering from chronic diseases who are unable to take care of themselves.
The first floor of the four-story building houses various outpatient departments, the second floor houses a long-term care unit, the third floor is empty and the fourth floor accommodates mentally ill patients.
A hospital spokesman said the ward on the second floor, which had 70 patients before the fire, has been operated by a private contractor for the past seven years.
“We planned to take over the operation once the 10-year contract expires,” the spokesman said, adding that the hospital’s management deeply regretted the tragedy.
He said the hospital plans to hold a joint funeral for the 12 patients killed in Tuesday’s blaze.