3 Teamsters Charged With 97 Deaths in ’86 Hotel Fire
Authorities arrested a Teamsters Union official and two union members today and charged them with 97 counts of first-degree murder for the 1986 Dupont Plaza Hotel fire, the Commonwealth Department of Justice said.
Manuel de Jesus Santiago Rios, vice president of the Teamsters local, and union members Luis Nunez Marquez and Luis Vega Rios were arrested by agents of Puerto Rico’s Special Investigation Bureau, the department said in a statement.
The three were each charged in U.S. District Court with 97 counts of first-degree murder, arson, sowing destruction, conspiracy and perjury. District Judge Carlos Rivera Martinez set bail at $2.5 million apiece and ordered them jailed until bail could be met, the department said.
Santiago Rios is the highest-ranking Teamsters official arrested for the Dupont Plaza fire, the second worst in U.S. history. The fire, set by three hotel employees on Dec. 31, 1986, killed 97 people and injured about 140.
The fire was set after Teamsters Union hotel workers voted to reject a management proposal for a new contract following bitter negotiations.
Hector Escudero Aponte, a maintenance worker, and Francisco Rivera Lopez, a hotel bartender, pleaded guilty to arson and a federal murder charge and were sentenced in June to 99 years in prison. Armando Jimenez Rivera, a bartender’s assistant, was sentenced to 75 years after pleading guilty to arson.
The arrests today were made after Commonwealth prosecutors reached an agreement with Escudero Aponte, 36, who was to go on trial today on 97 state counts of first-degree murder and one count each of arson and conspiracy. He pleaded guilty to 97 counts of second-degree murder, arson and conspiracy and was sentenced to concurrent terms totaling 30 years. In exchange, he agreed to testify against the three people arrested today.