SANTA MARIA, Brazil—An owner of the Brazilian night club where 235 people perished in a weekend fire tried to commit suicide, police said Wednesday, as the number of survivors seeking medical treatment after the disaster continued to rise.
Elissandro Sphor tried to kill himself with a plastic shower hose, said senior police official Lilian Carus in the town of Cruz Alta 125 kilometers (about 80 miles) from Santa Maria, where the club owner is hospitalized.
“It was clear he wanted to hang himself,” Carus told AFP, adding that a police officer arrived at the scene — a hospital where Sphor is being treated for gas poisoning — before anything happened.
Police took Sphor and three others into custody as they pieced together what caused the inferno at the Kiss nightclub, which was packed with partying students when the blaze broke out early Sunday.
About 75 injured victims of the fire are clinging to life, some in critical condition, in the college town of Santa Maria.
Meanwhile, health officials there said about 20 people have been hospitalized since the fire with symptoms of “chemical pneumonitis” after breathing in smoke and toxic gases emitted during the inferno.
The symptoms may take five days to appear and can be severe, health official Neio Pereira said.
Most of the victims died of smoke inhalation as they desperately tried to escape.
Those treated for the respiratory ailments Wednesday were in addition to 123 people hospitalized after the fire, which authorities say was sparked by a cheap flare lit by musicians as part of an illegal pyrotechnics display.
Authorities catalogued a long list of other infractions at club, including a lack of emergency lighting, non-functioning fire extinguishers and suspected overcrowding.
It also was operating with an expired license and had only one functioning exit, which survivors said was unmarked and blocked by steel barriers, making it difficult to flee the establishment.
Sphor’s doctor told the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper that since the tragedy, his client — who is one of two owners of the night club — cries incessantly, has had to be put on a prescription of tranquilizers, and is emotionally “destroyed.”
Meanwhile, dozens of people late Tuesday took to the streets of Santa Maria demanding justice and stricter laws.
“We will work tirelessly until all those responsible are identified,” police commissioner Marcelo Arigony promised the demonstrators — even as many blamed the government itself for failing to carry out the inspections that might have saved lives.
Some survivors said that security guards initially blocked the exit to prevent customers from leaving the club without paying their bar tabs.
Fire chief Sergio Roberto de Abreu said his department had been in the process of reviewing the club’s fire extinguisher documentation, but that approval had not yet been given at the time of the fire.
Lawyers for the club, however, have insisted that the establishment was in full compliance.