Student Tragedies in Perugia and Gyeongju
In November 2007, a British exchange student at the University of Perugia [l], Meredith Kercher, was found murdered in her room [l] her throat slit and lying in a pool of blood. It is still not clear what was the motivation for the murder and who were the murderers, although there is substantial evidence that fellow University of Perugia student Amanda Knox along with her boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito and friend Rudy Guede are linked to the crime.

 University of Perugia exchange student, Meredith Kercher, a couple of weeks before being murdered in 2007. Picture from wikipedia.org.

After spending 4 years in jail, Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito were released in 2011 when the appeals court determined that some of the evidence presented at the first trial was possibly contaminated. The case has received substantial media attention especially in the U.S. Indeed, one of the accused, Amanda Knox, is an american citizen who is thought by many to have been the victim of some discrimination by the Italian justice system. Personally, I find it hard to blame the Italian justice system in this case. Not only is there significant physical evidence [l] showing that both Knox and Sollecito were either at the scene of the crime or participated in the cover-up that soon followed, but there is also behavioral evidence that can not be dismissed: Knox and Sollecito lied repeatedly to the authorities, changing their alibis several times. In fact, Knox even wrongfully accused an innocent man, Patrick Lumumba, of committing the murder. Luckily for him, Lumumba had a rock-solid alibi for the night of the murder and was released soon after being arrested. In February 2014, at their third trial, Knox and Sollecito were found guilty for a second time and sentenced to 25 years in jail. Knox is expected to be expatriated to Italy soon where she will be imprisoned for another 21 years. It is not clear whether the sentence is deserved — it is possible that Raffaele and Amanda were at the scene of the crime but did not intend to murder Meredith, or maybe they have nothing to do with the murder after all. Regardless, because of their credibility having been damaged by their repeated lies, it is perhaps not surprising that the judge and the jury sided with the prosecution and gave the accused the maximum possible sentence.
 02.28.14
On the other side of the globe, another type of tragedy involving university students took place. On February 17th 2014, more than 500 undergraduate students from the Busan University for Foreign Studies [l] attended an orientation event at the Mauna Ocean Resort auditorium in Gyeongju [l], South Korea. A couple of hours after the start of the event, the roof collapsed killing in the process 10 people (including 9 university students) and severely injuring 2 more [l].

 The roof of the Mauna Ocean Resort auditorium collapsed on Feb. 17th 2014 killing 10 and injuring more than 100 in Gyeongju, South Korea. Arirang News, February 17th 2014.

Although the snow is blamed for the roof caving in, there was actually little snow accumulation at the moment of the collapse (less than 50cm) — certainly less than the maximum snow accumulation that has been witnessed in South Korea in recent years. Safety considerations in Korea dictate buildings to be designed to withstand far more than 50 cm of snow and an investigation is now under way to determine who made the design mistakes and whether the engineers should be held responsible and be prosecuted with manslaughter charges. It wouldn't be the first time that a construction company is found liable of negligence or of intentionally not following the building codes in order to boost profits. Not only did this occur in Korea in the past with the Sampoong department store collapse [l] killing 502 in Seoul in 1996, but this also occurred in other countries (see for instance the de la Concorde bridge collapse [l] killing 5 in Canada in 2006, the Mississipi river bridge collapse [l] killing 13 in the U.S. in 2007, and the Sasago tunnel collapse [l] killing 9 in Japan in 2012). Nonetheless, rarely do the engineers and construction workers who do not follow the building codes end up being prosecuted and receiving a jail sentence, even if such negligence and/or corruption entailed multiple deaths.
Guede, Knox, and Sollecito received a combined 69 years of jail for the murder of a single university student. Perhaps such a sentence is deserved considering how much pain they have inflicted on Meredith Kercher's family and friends. A parallel can here be made with the Korean families who lost their sons and daughters on that dreadful february night when the Gyeongju auditorium caved in. It could be argued that the engineers who poorly designed the auditorium committed a crime: they were either negligent and failed to calculate the stresses correctly or, worse, they were corrupted and intentionally did not follow the construction codes to increase profits. This resulted in the killing of 9 students and one organizer, and 10 families ended up suffering just as much as the Kerchers. This acts as a reminder to us engineers to be more vigilant at work. We should ensure our designs are robust enough to be safe under normal operating conditions and, perhaps more importantly, we should not succumb to pressure from our co-workers to sacrifice quality of our work in favour of monetary wealth, as tempting as it may be.
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