National / Crime & Legal

Tokyo artwork exhibitors referred to prosecutors over 2016 fire that killed boy

Kyodo

Six organizers and exhibitors involved with an outdoor Tokyo art festival in 2016 were referred to prosecutors Monday, over a fire at the event that killed a 5-year-old boy in a wooden jungle gym-like art installation.

The six, two of whom are university students, are suspected of professional negligence resulting in the death of the kindergartner, and injuries to two others, due to allegedly insufficient fire prevention measures. Police believe the fire was caused by an incandescent light bulb set inside the object.

The artwork, which was made by a student group at the Nippon Institute of Technology, contained wood chips that police concluded were ignited by the light, causing fire to spread throughout the structure.

The boy’s father and a man visiting the site of Tokyo Design Week in the Meiji Jingu Gaien area in November 2016 sustained injuries while trying to help the boy escape the burning object. The victim’s name was withheld at the request of his parents.

The two university students have admitted to setting the incandescent light inside the artwork and told investigators they turned it on because it became dark, according to the police.

In addition to the students, their teacher and three executives of an advertising company that organized the event were also referred to prosecutors.

The teacher said the university had failed to supervise the two, while the executives, including the 70-year-old president of the company, said they understood the college was responsible for maintenance of the artwork, according to investigative sources.

The object, which was 3 meters high, about 5 meters wide and around 2 meters long, was described as a free interactive artwork.

The boy’s parents said through their lawyer that they believe referring the six to prosecutors is “a significant step forward” in getting to the bottom of the accident.

Kenichi Narita, president of the university, offered a fresh apology over the incident, and pledged to boost safety education so as not to repeat similar accidents, in comments released on the school website.

The festival, which was first held in 1997, featured works of art and architecture. It has not been held since the fire.

In an experiment conducted by the National Institute of Technology and Evaluation, wood chips started to generate smoke about 20 seconds after they were placed on a 450-watt incandescent light and caught fire about two minutes later.

Accidents believed to have been caused by incandescent lights between fiscal 2011 and 2015 in Japan totaled 100, of which 49 cases led to a fire, according to the NITE.