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The Straits Times
Aug 16, 2023
An elderly man with a history of bipolar disorder set his mattress ablaze after claiming to see bed bugs and the fire spread, causing a neighbour’s domestic helper to die of smoke inhalation.
On Wednesday, Chia Gek Yong, 73, whose mental condition was in relapse at the time of the incident, admitted that he had caused Ms Koimatun Achmad Ali’s death by performing a rash act.
The 48-year-old woman was the only one at home at the time as her employers were overseas.
Deputy Public Prosecutor R. Arvindren said that Chia’s symptoms included increased energy levels and hallucination.
Following his conviction on Wednesday, the court called for a report to assess his suitability for a mandatory treatment order.
Offenders given such an order have to undergo treatment to address their conditions in lieu of time behind bars.
On Jan 29, 2022, Chia woke up at around 4am in his flat on the 10th storey of Block 39 Telok Blangah Rise. He was on his bed in the living room.
Thinking he saw bed bugs, he sprayed his bed with cans of insecticide.
He then used lighters to set the mattress on fire, believing the bed bugs were still alive.
When the fire spread, he tried to put it out with several bottles of water but failed.
After that, he exited the flat, leaving behind its four other occupants who were asleep. Their identities were not disclosed in court documents.
They were jolted awake by the smoke and also left the flat, said the DPP, adding: “The police received multiple calls reporting the fire... One of the four occupants went to a nearby coffee shop to take an extinguisher.
“He went back to the unit to try putting out the fire, but as the fire was starting to engulf the entire 10th floor unit, he was unsuccessful.”
Police and Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) officers arrived at the scene soon after and started evacuating the whole block.
The prosecutor told the court that the officers had to carefully evacuate the residents as many of them were senior citizens and lifts cannot be used during a fire evacuation.
There was also only one staircase that could be used for the evacuation.
As the firefighting efforts continued, smoke from the blaze got thicker and infiltrated a flat on the 11th storey.
The fire was brought under control shortly before 6am and SCDF officers then went to the 11th floor unit, only to find its front door locked.
They forced entry into the unit and found an unconscious Ms Koimatun in a room next to the kitchen.
She had breathing difficulties and was still alive when she was rushed to hospital, where she died at around 10.30pm.
[#HDBFire @ Block 39 Telok Blangah Rise Level 10] About 280 residents and people were evacuated as a precaution after a...
The SCDF officers noticed Chia’s flat contained various hoarded items that contributed to the spread of the fire.
Court documents did not disclose the identity of the person who had collected the items.
There was also a gas leak in the unit where Chia lived and the officers had to ensure that the gas valve was turned off while fighting the blaze.
As the police had to ensure that everyone in Chia’s flat was accounted for, a police officer shouted Chia’s name and he identified himself.
As he was escorted to an assembly area, he admitted he had started the fire to “kill bed bugs” and was arrested soon after.
Defence lawyer Riko Isaac told the court that Chia is aware of the seriousness of his actions and is remorseful.
He is expected to be sentenced in September.