LIGHT SENTENCES FOR OZONE DICO OWNERS
Quezon City, March 17, 2001 - Two businessmen were meted a four-year prison term yesterday and fined more than P25 million each for the Ozone Disco fire that killed 162 people and injured at least 95 others five years ago in Quezon City.
Hermilo Ocampo and Ramon Ng were convicted of reckless imprudence resulting in multiple homicide and multiple serious injuries. They were president and treasurer, respectively, of Westwood Entertainment, the company that operated Ozone.
Relatives of many of the victims were outraged by the light prison term and described the sentence as "cheap justice." Families of the dead will each get an indemnity of P150,000. Those injured will get P100,000 each.
Judge Ofelia Marquez, in a 125-page decision read in open court, said Ocampo and Ng did not provide fire exits and sprinklers inside the disco house off Boy Scout Rotonda along Timog and Morato avenues, and that the fire extinguishers they placed were defective.
She also noted that the popular disco had been approved for use by only 35 people, but was packed with about 350 customers and 40 employees when the fire broke out on March 18, 1996.
Many of those who were burned to death were young people and new graduates celebrating the end of the school year.
Marquez cleared of cri-minal liability four others: Ocampo’s wife Raquel, Alfredo Chua, Rosita Ku, and her son Sonny Ku who were also linked to the fire.
"They were merely stockholders/directors of the firm and had no direct supervision/participation in the day-to-day affairs of the establishment," she said.
The judge, however, ruled that all six share in paying P150,000 to the relatives of every one who died and P100,000 to each of the injured.
According to Marquez, Ocampo was the one supervising Ozone from 1991 to the night of the fire. "He should have noticed architectural defects and fire fighting deficiencies of the club, which catered to the public in general," she said in her verdict.
Despite the hundreds of people inside it, Ozone only had a lone door which swung inward. The door, Marquez pointed out, was too small and did not meet the standard set by the country’s building laws.
"Nothing but ordinary foresight could have shown them (owners) that the place was a fire trap, it being located in the interior of a sprawling building," Marquez said.
Survivors of the tragedy said they saw a spark inside the disc jockey’s booth shortly after midnight of March 18. They initially thought it to be part of the disco’s special effects. However, they panicked when smoke and the scent of burning started to fill the place. The revelers then raced to the door, but were trapped when security guards locked them from the outside, thinking that a riot was taking place. Michaela Reyes, an Ozone employee, said the locking was a "standard order" to the guards by the management.
The victims were charred so badly that their families had to sort through jewelry, makeup kits and shoes in hopes of identifying the bodies. The extreme heat even fused some bodies together.
The fire was the worst in the country and the second worst nightclub blaze worldwide.
Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi
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