Hot spring deaths case heats up

Kyodo

Prosecutors on Friday received a case against a mayor in Miyazaki Prefecture and four others over the outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease at a hot spring that resulted in seven deaths.

The five are Hyuga Mayor Magoharu Yamamoto, 71; Deputy Mayor Tetsuro Yuge, 63; Kuniharu Kimura, 63, a former manager of the Hyuga Sun-Park Onsen spa; Yoshifumi Yoshitaka, 55, a part-time spa employee; and Futoshi Iwakiri, 40, who helped build the spa.

Police allege that Yamamoto, who is also president of the city-run firm that owns the spa, and Yuge, a board director of the firm, neglected to ensure that the facility was safe and kept clean.

The three others are suspected of negligence in their sanitation management.

According to prefectural officials, 295 people have been identified as contracting the disease or possibly being infected with it. Seven have died.

Police have blamed the suspects for six of the deaths but lack the evidence to link them to the seventh.

Hyuga Sun-Park Onsen opened last July 1 but closed July 24 following reports of the disease. About 20,000 people used the facility.

Yamamoto has indicated he intends to reopen the hot spring in September, telling a news conference Friday that he will consult with people who support the move. The city of Hyuga owns a 92 percent interest in the spa.

He said he accepts the action by the police and will fulfill his duty to help the victims and resume the facility’s operations.

During on-site inspections, the prefecture conducted water quality checks on the spa’s baths and examined other facilities on the premises.

The water tests detected Legionella bacteria in quantities 150,000 times greater than those allowed by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry. The prefecture also found that the water had not been properly sterilized.

It was the largest mass infection involving Legionnaires’ disease in Japan.

Legionella bacteria causes pneumonia or fever, mostly in the elderly.