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Chinese official dies of apparent suicide while investigating the deaths of 21 runners

A Chinese sheriff appears to have jumped to his death under a probe into deaths of 21 runners last month as icy rain and storms hit the mountain where they competed in an ultramarathon, state television reported Friday.

CCTV said police were notified Wednesday that a man had jumped from his apartment and died. Upon investigation, he was found to be Jingtai County Communist Party Secretary Li Zuobi. Murder has been ruled out, it said.

On Friday, the Gansu provincial government in western China handed down sentences to 27 officials who posthumously acquitted Li, but fired his deputy, Zhang Wenling, CCTV reported. Two other lower-ranking officials were detained pending further investigation, while the others received administrative sanctions, demotion, warnings and breakdowns.

China Cross Country Race Deaths
In this photo from China’s Xinhua News Agency, rescuers enter the crash site to search for survivors in Jingtai County, Baiyin City, northwest of China’s Gansu Province, on Sunday, May 23, 2021. More than a dozen people running a mountain marathon died .

Fan Peishen / AP

A report released by the province found a lack of adequate planning of the event and an inability to respond effectively when weather conditions deteriorated drastically during May 22, it said.

The organizing committee failed to implement its protocols for managing the race and was guilty of being “too formalistic and bureaucratic,” the report said.

Competitors ran 100 kilometers (62 miles), partly along an extremely narrow mountain trail, at altitudes up to 2,000-3,000 meters (6,500-9,800 feet) in the Yellow River Stone Forest tourist resort of Gansus Baiyin city.

Reports said about $ 150,000 in compensation has been offered for each victim, but some family members had declined the amount, saying many who died were breadwinners and at the top of their sport. Among the dead was the well-known runner Liang Jing, who had won a 100-kilometer race in the Gobi Desert.

While the race has been held several times before, runners were apparently caught off guard by the cold weather and difficult conditions on steep, paved trails made up of a mixture of rock and sand.

In the midst of freezing rain and cold weather, about 50 of the more than 170 competitors were sheltered in traditional cave dwellings maintained by shepherds. A wholehearted rescue mission brought most of them to safety, though several had to be hospitalized.

If you or someone you know is at risk of suicide, there is help. Call National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, send a crisis counselor at 741741 or visit suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

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