Nurse charged over fatal Sydney nursing home fire

November 18, 2011 - 10:00 PM

SYDNEY (AP) — Police alleged Saturday that a nurse at a Sydney home for the elderly caused two fires that ripped through the facility, killing five patients and critically injuring 13 others.

Roger Dean was charged with four counts of murder, and was expected to be charged with a fifth. Four of the victims died Friday, the day the fires ravaged the nursing home in Sydney's suburban Quakers Hill neighborhood, and the fifth died in a hospital Saturday.

The 35-year-old, who appeared before a magistrate by video link from prison, did not enter a plea or apply for bail. His next court appearance is scheduled for Thursday.

Homicide Squad Detective Superintendent Michael Willing said Dean was among several witnesses helping detectives with their investigation before he was charged with murder before dawn Saturday.

"Last night, detectives were speaking to the man at Mt. Druitt Police Station where they formed the opinion that they had sufficient evidence to place him under arrest," Willing told reporters.

He would not give details of the suspected motive for the crimes, or say what led police to believe that Dean was responsible. Willing said the crime scene remained too unstable and dangerous to be examined for forensic evidence. Murder carries a potential sentence of life imprisonment.

Two fires broke out in different parts of the Principal Quakers Hill home and tore through the single-story complex before dawn Friday. Part of the roof collapsed, and firefighters crawled through blinding smoke to rescue more than 80 patients, many of whom are bedridden or suffer from dementia.

"This is a firefighter's worst nightmare," Fire Commissioner Greg Mullins said. "Turning up to a nursing home with elderly people who can't get themselves out of harm's way."

The patient who died Saturday was among 14 who were admitted to intensive care units for treatment of severe burns and smoke inhalation. An additional 17 patients were being treated for less serious injuries.

Federal Minister for Mental Health and Aging Mark Butler said the nursing home's fire safety systems were found to meet standards during an audit in July. Fire Assistant Commissioner Jim Smith said the facility did not have sprinklers but was not required by law to have such a fire safety system.

Firefighters described the blaze as Sydney's worst since 16 patients died in a nursing home fire in suburban Sylvania Heights in 1981.