The tragedy occurred on the night of February 26 to 27, 2020 in the station district of Strasbourg. Flames quickly spread through a seven-story apartment building. The fire, “very violent” according to a witness, mobilized no less than 48 firefighters and 23 vehicles. In the early morning, the report showed five deaths: a 68-year-old retiree, a 25-year-old medical intern, a 45-year-old forklift driver, a 29-year-old young man, and a 25-year-old Togolese student. Seven injuries were also recorded. Two men are on trial from Tuesday at the Bas-Rhin assizes for this fire, described as “intentional”
The investigation, entrusted to the departmental security soon supported by the judicial police, quickly ruled out the hypothesis of an electrical failure to concentrate on the criminal trail, while the co-ownership manager had reported various “trafficking” taking place in the building. Analysis of the video surveillance revealed the presence of two young men quickly leaving the premises at the very moment when the electrical cabinet caught fire due to a cigarette butt. They stored their narcotics in the stairwell. One of them spontaneously presented himself to the authorities the next day.
“Contesting the intentional nature of the fire”
These two suspects, aged 24 and 25, appear free and should, during the seven days of trial, contest the intentional nature of the fire. “The judicial postulate is that they wanted to deliberately set fire to this building. But the qualification of arson has always seemed to us to be inconsistent with the intention of one or other of the accused,” Randall Schwerdorffer, one of the accused’s lawyers, with Maître Michaël Wacquez, told AFP. . “We therefore fall under a criminal classification of the facts. But I think that it is the consequences of the fire, with five deaths, which led the judicial institution to overqualify,” analyzes the lawyer, who believes that the facts would on the contrary have merited the qualification of involuntary fire, punishable only from the criminal court. “I think they are both stunned by what happened,” adds Randall Schwerdorffer.
The jurors will also have to determine which of the two accused threw the cigarette butt which caused the fire. “My client’s position is to say ‘I am not able to say which of our cigarette butts started the fire,’” says Maître Schwerdorffer. “But with material as fragile as the defendants’ statements, it’s going to be complicated. »
Many families and relatives of victims are expected to attend the hearing, where they will be supported by the Viaduq 67 association. Henri Anselm, brother of one of them, has joined as a civil party, as has his sister, his nephews and nieces. He awaits this trial with both impatience and apprehension. “I hope that we will be able to know the truth of what happened, that those responsible will be punished fairly and that the moral and family damage will be recognized,” confides this octogenarian to AFP.
The verdict is expected on September 27. The accused face life imprisonment.