Illegal drug found in blaze death toddler

Pathologist tells of his shock of finding Ice in body of youngest victim of fire that swept through subdivided To Kwa Wan tenement

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 June, 2013, 5:13am

A little boy's life was already marked by the desperation of his surroundings before he died in the fire that swept through the old tenement block in which he lived, the inquest into the deaths of the four To Kwa Wan blaze victims heard yesterday.

Traces of the illegal drug Ice were found in the body of 16-month-old Lai Chun-tak - the result of sharing a building with drug users who carelessly discarded equipment used to smoke the methamphetamine, the Coroner's Court was told.

Pathologist Ying Ho-wan said the detection of the drug in the boy's body was "abnormal and rare". Chun-tak had inhaled the psychoactive drug two to three days before he died but the death was not related to this.

Ying added that he had passed his findings on to police who said the boy probably inhaled the drug accidentally.

Chun-tak's death came on June 15, 2011, when a blaze broke out in the 54-year-old tenement building at 111-113 Ma Tau Wai Road at about 3am.

He died together with his elder brother Lai Chun-hin, six, and his pregnant mother Huang Jianhuan, 37.

They and the fourth victim, 18-year-old Summer Tse Yan-yee, had all died of burns, said Ying and another pathologist, Poon Wai-ming.

Yesterday, the court also heard from the Lai family's landlord, Li Wah-tong. He told how he had carved up the flat into four units about three months after buying it. During the renovation, he said he had watched workers using wood to block the exit to the rear staircase from one of the rooms.

None of the cubicles had access to that exit.

Li said he had never used the rear staircase "but I was aware of its existence".

Firemen earlier told the court that the fire started in two places - in a stall under the stairs on the ground floor and on the front stairs between the first and second floors.

It quickly blocked the front stairs, trapping residents inside.

Fung Kwok-kwong, who owns a photo studio on the first floor and the stall below, said the stall housed two plastic billboards, some inflammable oil and unused wiring. Fung said the stall was wired with a main switch and two fluorescent lights.

On Monday, Lai Hok-man, the family's father and sole survivor, said that when the fire broke out, his wife, Huang, raised the alarm and headed out with Chun-tak first.

He subsequently lost consciousness due to the heavy smoke. "When I woke up I was in hospital already," he said.

He said he had no knowledge of a back exit. The six-day inquest continues today before Coroner Michael Chan Pik-kiu.