San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Worker Sentenced to 50 Years for Hospital Fire

A San José judge sentenced the hospital worker who set fire to CalderónGuardiaHospital in downtown San José in 2005 to 50 years in prison Wednesday.

The fire, which killed 19 people including 16 patients and three nurses, caught the hospital – which lacked proper fire safety infrastructure and planning – off-guard. Patients and hospital staff jumped from fifth floor windows in an attempt to escape.

The fire also outraged the media and Costa Ricans nationwide, prompting calls for improvements in fire safety preparedness in the country – though a recent investigation by The Tico Times shows only marginal progress has been made (TT, June 8).

The principal evidence in the case against hospital assistant Juan Carlos Ledezma came from witnesses who testified that they’d seen him leaving the warehouse where the fire began immediately before the hospital’s rudimentary alarm system began to sound.

The fire, the most tragic in Costa Rica’s history, destroyed the oldest part of the hospital, which dated back to 1943.

A $15 million donation from the government of Taiwan was to help fund the rebuilding of the hospital. Although President Oscar Arias announced last week that Costa Rica had cut ties with Taiwan, which prompted it to withdraw all funding for pending projects, the government has assured the country that work on the hospital will continue (see separate story).


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