2 officials whose wives own Mexican day care quit

MEXICO CITY – Two state government officials whose wives are owners of a Mexican day care center where 44 children died in a fire resigned on Tuesday, saying they wanted to clear the way for an investigation into the blaze.

Antonio Salido, finance director for Sonora state's infrastructure department, and Alfonso Escalante, the assistant secretary for livestock, announced their resignations at a joint news conference accompanied by their wives.

"To avoid any type of speculation, we have presented our resignations as public servants to allow for a better clarification of events," Salido read from a statement. He took no questions.

Salido's wife, Marcia Gomez del Campo, is related to first lady Margarita Zavala, who said Monday that the two have a common great-grandfather but have never met. Escalante is married to Sandra Tellez.

Salido denied the owners obtained permits for the day care because of family ties.

"The functioning of this day care center is not due to special help or influences but to the investment from a group of partners," Salido said.

It was not clear if there were other owners of the day care besides the two women.

A fire that started at a neighboring warehouse swiftly spread to the ABC day care center in Hermosillo on Friday, killing 44 children and injuring 38 children and adults.

Salido said the day care center had three clearly marked emergency exits and strictly followed safety rules established by the Mexican Social Security Institute, which outsourced child services to them.

"It passed all the inspections that current regulations require," Salido said.

Witnesses have said that no fire alarm or sprinkler system went off, and one mother said there was only one exit and that a second door to the day care was bolted shut.

The private facility — leased by the government to provide people low-cost service — cared for 173 children in a converted warehouse surrounded by mechanic shops and across from a gas station, officials said. About 50 children had left before the fire started.

Salido said the day care opened its doors in 2001, before the state's treasury department rented the building next door as a warehouse for cars, tires and documents, and before a gas station was opened across the street.

Sonora state attorney general Abel Murrieta said Monday that a short circuit or overheating in an air conditioning system in the adjacent warehouse may have caused the fire.

Sonora Gov. Eduardo Bours, in California on Tuesday, reiterated his promise for a thorough investigation into the fire.

Bours met with the families of victims being treated at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Northern California in Sacramento. The hospital received a fourth patient Tuesday, with more expected.

"We have to wait until the investigation is finished, but what I can say right now is that what is quite clear is the regulation of the day care is not satisfactory," Bours said.

This version CORRECTS SUBS 15th graf to correct that Bours statement not televised, minor edits

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