San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Man Who Set Fire to Hospital Calderón Guardia Gets 20 years

Juan Carlos Ledezma, who was found guilty of igniting a fire in Hospital Calderón Guardia in 2005 that killed 19 people and destroyed two floors, was sentenced to 20 years in prison, judges confirmed this week.

The sentence was sliced from the original conviction of 50 years, after the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court determined the crime should be classified as arson, not manslaughter. Officials alleged that Ledezma was a “megalomaniac” who lit the fire in the hope that he would get the same attention he did when he helped control a smaller fire in the hospital’s library earlier that year (TT, June 2007).

Ledezma, who eventually pleaded guilty, was working as a nursing assistant at the hospital on July 12, 2005.

The pre-dawn fire destroyed the hospital’s surgery, birthing, neonatal and gynecology units, among others. The Taiwanese government, a former political ally of Costa Rica, donated $15 million to the Social Security System (Caja) to rebuild the hospital, which was later withdrawn after Costa Rica cut diplomatic ties with the Asian country (TT, June 14, 2006). The Costa Rican government has been investing in piecemeal improvements and renovations since the attack.

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