Disgruntled ex-employee dies in bus fire he may have caused

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 October, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 October, 2007, 12:00am

A manager of a bus company who had been suspended by his firm was allegedly behind the deadly bus fire on Tuesday in Chongqing that killed 27 people, police said yesterday.

Police identified Xiao Yonghua, 50, and his wife, Zhang Xiaoya, 38, as suspects. But they died in the blaze, which gutted the bus with 38 people on board.

The bus was run by Chongqing Guanzhong Public Transportation Company - a company invested in by Hong Kong's Kwoon Chung Motors Company. A Kwoon Chung director has arrived in Chongqing to assist in the investigation.

According to police, traces of petrol were found on the seats occupied by Zhang and Xiao. The couple were seen carrying two bulky bags on board the bus without going through security checks as required.

Wang Yunsheng , deputy head of the Chongqing Public Security Bureau, said Xiao was angry after being suspended by the company because of family problems.

'Xiao Yonghua was unhappy about his several divorces ... and his suspension, so he acted on ill will and put other people's lives in jeopardy,' Mr Wang said.

The bus had been travelling from Wansheng district to Chongqing.

Witnesses described the fire, which broke out about 20 minutes after the bus left its terminal, as fierce. Because Xiao and Zhang sat behind the driver, the fire blocked the door, trapping passengers. Only 11 people escaped.

The driver was slightly injured and all the survivors were in stable condition. Family members have identified 26 of the 27 bodies.

Xinhua said officials scheduled a meeting yesterday afternoon to discuss compensation with the victims' families. It was not clear if the compensation would be paid by the government, the bus company or the insurance company.

The tragedy alarmed top leaders. Xinhua said President Hu Jintao told Chongqing officials to spare no efforts in treating the victims, comforting family members and carrying out a thorough inquiry.

Chongqing mayor Wang Hongju and three deputy mayors were directly in charge of the rescue operations. The Ministry of Public Security sent experts from Beijing to assist the investigation.