Mexico Arrests 7 in Day Care Fire that Killed 47

MEXICO CITY (AP) - Seven state officials were arrested Monday
and six others were being sought on negligent homicide charges in a
day care fire that killed 47 children in Mexico. But none were
involved in the day care center itself.

All 13 work for the northern Sonora state Finance Department,
which operated an adjacent warehouse for cars, tires and paperwork.
Investigators say the fire may have been caused by a short circuit
or overheating in the air conditioning system of the warehouse,
which lacked fire alarms and extinguishers.

"They are employees and officials with the Finance Department
who have a direct responsibility for the warehouse where the fire
started," state Attorney General Abel Murrieta said.

In Mexico, federal prosecutors have jurisdiction over the
federally funded day care, and despite a chorus of demands for
justice from grieving parents, they have yet to charge any of the
people who ran the center.

The warehouse blaze in Hermosillo, Sonora's state capital,
spread to the roof of the day care, sending fire raining down on
the children and teachers. Thirty children died that day; others
succumbed later, including the 47th victim, a 3-year-old girl with
burns on 65 percent of the her body who died Sunday.

The day care center had passed a safety inspection just two
weeks before the June 5 fire, and its owners have said there were
three clearly marked emergency exits.

But firefighters, parents and civilian rescuers said they fought
to evacuate the children through the only door that was not
blocked. A desperate neighbor used a pickup truck to punch large
holes through the cinderblock walls.

Although the day care center had fire alarms, they failed to go
off because the smoke seeped between the roof and the ceiling
panels, above where the alarms were attached.

The tragedy has shocked Mexico and provoked finger-pointing
between federal and state authorities.

Jose Martin Godoy, who represents the federal Attorney General's
Office in Sonora, said some federal officials could be charged, but
declined to give details and wouldn't comment on whether the day
care center owners would face charges.

The privately run center cared for children under a contract
from the federal Social Security Institute, and is co-owned by the
wives of two state officials who have since resigned from their
posts but are not among those arrested Monday.

One of the wives also is a distant relative of Mexico's first
lady, Margarita Zavala, who has said nobody should be above the
law.

The Social Security Institute will file a civil lawsuit against
the day care owners and the state Finance Department for
negligence, institute director Daniel Karam said, without providing
more details.

Sonora Gov. Eduardo Bours, who belongs to the opposition
Institutional Revolutionary Party, angrily labeled the threatened
lawsuit a "smoke screen" designed to deflect blame from the
federal government, which he said is ultimately responsible for the
day care center.

The Social Security Institute provides low-cost care for at
least 200,000 children at more than 1,500 centers across Mexico.
The federal government has said it is reviewing safety conditions
at the centers, many of which are outsourced to private operators.

The agency's top official in Sonora has resigned and at least
three other agency officials have been suspended pending the
investigation.


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