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Thai club owner acquitted in fatal New Year’s fire

BANGKOK — A Thai appeals court on Tuesday acquitted a nightclub owner of responsibility for a fire that killed 67 people in Bangkok on New Year’s Day in 2009, reversing a lower court’s ruling.

More than 1,000 revelers were inside the Santika club when an indoor fireworks display that was set off after a New Year’s countdown ignited the blaze. The fire raced through the building, sending panicked guests running for the main entrance. Victims died of burns, smoke inhalation, and from being crushed in the stampede.

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Club owner Wisuk Sejsawat, the lighting effects company, and its executive were found guilty by a lower court in 2011 of causing the deaths of people without intent, and Wisuk was sentenced to three years in prison.

On Tuesday, the Bangkok Appeals Court ruled that Wisuk was not directly responsible for the blaze and dismissed the charges against him. The judges said he could have been held responsible for the lack of prominently displayed floor plans, fire exit signs, and emergency lights required by the building code, but he did not cause the fire.

The Appeals Court upheld the lower court’s ruling that the lighting effects company should pay $279,000 in compensation to the victims or their families and sentenced its executive to three years’ imprisonment.

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