Jessica Tata, a woman wanted after a day care center fire killed four small children, has surrendered.
It’s a day many of the victims’ families had hoped for — a chance to get justice. We first told you about the major development in the case here on abc13.com.
Tata’s brother told Eyewitness News she turned herself in at a consulate in Nigeria. Investigators believed she fled to that country shortly after the fire last month.
Tata is accused of leaving those kids home alone when that fire broke out. While details of her surrender are being kept under wraps, we know that her family may have convinced her to come out of hiding and turn herself in.
After more than 20 days on the run, Tata, one of the U.S. Marshal’s 15 most wanted fugitives, is said to be traveling with Nigerian officials to the capital of Portharcourt, where U.S. authorities will meet her.
Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee has been following the search for her and says Tata’s surrender was voluntary.
“The U.S. embassy in Nigeria is well informed, is in control and in cooperation with the Nigerian government and in cooperation with law enforcement authorities here in the United States,” she said.
Archives for fire-investigators
Day care operator charged in deadly Houston fire reported to be in custody. Jessica Tata turned herself in to officials in Nigeria.2 comments
Houston fire chief says mistakes were made that allowed owner to flee after day care center fire killed four children. Terry Garrison says Jessica Tata was treated as a victim. Raw video from press conference.3 comments
Houston’s fire chief stood up this afternoon amid the accusations going back and forth between his department and the Harris County District Attorney’s Office to say mistakes were made in the handling of the investigation of last Thursday’s day care center fire that left four children dead and three injured. Chief Terry Garrison told reporters he owes the families of the children an apology after the owner of the day care center Jessica Tata fled to Nigeria. Investigators determined that Tata has gone to the store at the time the fire broke out leaving the young children without supervision.
While earlier in the day HFD released a timeline showing investigators difficulty and frustration in trying to get an arrest warrant and a search warrant from the DA’s office, Chief Garrison said they put too much trust in Jessica Tata and her attorney and did not put her under surveillance:
Garrison said instead of keeping tabs on Tata’s whereabouts, the department was gathering more information to try to get an arrest warrant from the DA’s Office by interviewing the parents, witnesses and watching surveillance video from a store where Tata allegedly had been shopping around the time of the fire.
“At the time, we weighed our decision on a few things — we felt like she was a person who made a mistake and we trusted her attorney who said she was going to talk to us,” Garrison said. “We believed Ms. Tata and her attorney that she was going to be made available to talk.”
Chief Garrison says if had to do it over again, he would personally follow Tata to make sure she didn’t leave. They, after all, had a Crime Stoppers tip she was a flight risk. They thought they had probable cause to arrest her. While they debated with the district attorney for days over charges, no one was watching Tata to make sure she kept her word.
The district attorney said they could not file charges until they determined Tata did in fact leave the children alone. Witnesses told investigators the children were home alone when the fire started.
Garrison deflected any suggestion that he was frustrated with the DA’s Office for not filing charges against Tata earlier than Sunday.
“When I said I was frustrated — I’m frustrated that Ms. Tata is not here to answer to these charges,” said Garrison. “I think the DA’s office is as frustrated as any of us.”
The fire chief stated that he is proud of the fire department and that the department will evaluate its actions during this investigation.
Houston Fire Department & Harris County District Attorney at odds over daycare worker fleeing the country. HFD releases detailed timeline.No comments
There is a battle going on in Houston between HFD and Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos over who is responsible for allowing the child care worker connected to last Thursday’s deadly fire to flee to Nigeria. The fire killed four children and injured three others. Investigators say the children were alone when the fire broke out because Tata went to the store.
HFD investigators are frustrated with prosecutors who would not issue an arrest warrant or a search warrant for Jessica Tata’s van. HFD says it also warned the District Attorney’s Office that Tata was likely to leave the country. The fire department makes the case they had the same evidence that eventually resulted in the warrant in their first meeting with prosecutors. Lykos blasts those who are criticizing her office for moving slowly.
HFD Chief Terry Garrison has issued a statement and released a detailed timeline of investigators actions and meetings with prosecutors. Lykos has also issued a timeline. Take a moment to read them.
The Houston Fire Department shot back at the Harris County District Attorney’s Office Wednesday, releasing a detailed chronology of events in their investigation of a fatal day care fire in west Houston.
… at a press conference on Tuesday, March 1, Lykos said it was up to arson investigators to collect evidence against Tata.
“We do not live in a police state,” Lykos said. “While officers can certainly arrest people for crimes with their own discretion, the penal code outlines when you can arrest without a warrant. But you have to have objective facts to justify holding that person in custody.”
When asked whether Tata should have been arrested on Thursday or Friday, Lykos said she had “no opinion,” but implied that investigators had not collected sufficient evidence quickly enough.
Lykos blasted anyone critical of the job her office had done, characterizing the public statements as “unprofessional” and “counterproductive.”
Inside the arson ring: A must read. Police report indicates young Massachusetts firefighters were bored & greedy.9 comments
There is now a lot more detail about the five on-call firefighters accused of starting fires in three vacant homes in the Massachusetts towns of Brimfield and Holland. It probably won’t surprise anyone familiar with the issue of firefighter arson that these were young men who said they set the fires because they were bored. They weren’t seeing enough action, except the EMS calls that really didn’t interest them.
In this case there is also the issue of greed. They were on-call firefighters who needed the money from the fire responses. The firefighters charged are Patrick K. Elliott, 19, a call firefighter with the Brimfield Fire Department, Brian S. Findlay, 18, a call firefighter with the Brimfield and Holland fire departments, Jordan R. Frank, 18, a call firefighter with the Brimfield Fire Department, Dylan J. Lajeunesse, 18,a call firefighter with the Holland Fire Department and Donald C. Moores, 20, a call firefighter with the Brimfield and Holland fire departments.
In an excellent article by Gerard F. Russell and Kim Ring at Telegram.com, the reporters go through the police report showing how the five firefighters set the fires and how they were caught. The story indicates investigators focused on the firefighters following a call to a tip line. The caller said one of the firefighters told a friend he and other firefighters had set the fires.
A couple of other interesting points from the excerpts below. The firefighters weren’t very good at starting fires, needing to go back and get gasoline in order to get two of the fires going.
Note the evidence the investigators now have thanks to the young firefighters texting each other with details about what they were doing. Not long before I became a volunteer in the 1970s a couple of firefighter arsonists were arrested from the company I joined. Of course there was no texting in those days. I was told what helped catch the pair was they were on an alternate fire department radio channel when one asked the other if they removed the gasoline can.
Here are some of the details from Massachusetts firefighter arson ring:
The police report detailed the men’s alleged activities leading up to each fire, which included text messages in which the men talked about their involvement in the fires. The police narrative details episodes of failed attempts to light fires with a mixture of oil and diesel fuel in plastic containers that was mixed at the Brimfield Fire Department by Mr. Elliott.
Some of the men allegedly hung out together at the Brimfield fire headquarters, became bored and rode around the town looking for abandoned homes to burn. Prior to one of the fires, Mr. Frank told police that Mr. Elliott “made a mixture of oil, and either gas, diesel or kerosene” and put it into a large antifreeze container. Mr. Elliott “had the container with the mixture between his legs in the front passenger seat.”
After pouring the mixture all over the garage door at the Chandler Road fire, Mr. Elliott tried lighting the accelerant but “it flashed and went down.” The men left and went back to the Brimfield fire station. Mr. Frank said Mr. Elliott “was freaking out because his prints were everywhere.” So the men drove back and the fire was smoldering. They then went to the home of one of the men to wait for the fire call tones that sound to alert firefighters to respond to fires.
After the first fire during the cleanup, Mr. Moores had asked Mr. Frank, of West Brookfield, how he arrived at the fire so fast. Mr. Frank said he was in the area with Mr. Elliott, Mr. Patrick and Mr. Findlay. In a police interview, Mr. Moores said he asked the men if they started the fire and they denied it.
“Moores stated he has known these guys a long time and he knew they were lying about the fire so he asked a second time and they all laughed and Elliott stated they did start it,” the report said.
Hours before the second fire on Washington Road, Mr. Elliott allegedly telephoned Mr. Moores, who was visiting another firefighter in town. Mr. Moores was preparing to go home Mr. Elliott told him to “just stay in town.”
Mr. Moores asked Mr. Elliott, “Why, are you going to start another fire?” Mr. Elliott did not answer the question. Just before midnight, Mr. Moores spotted Mr. Elliott, Mr. Frank and Mr. Findlay at Cumberland Farms, and Mr. Moores again asked Mr. Elliott why he should stay in town. Mr. Elliott responded, “You know why.”
All of the men then drove to the Brimfield fire station, where an accelerant was mixed inside the bay where the ambulance and forestry trucks were parked.
Mr. Moores told police that before the third fire, in Holland, he received a text message to meet Mr. Elliott, Mr. Findlay, Mr. Frank and Mr. Lajeunesse to start another fire.
As in a previous fire, the men had trouble getting the fire going. Around 1:30 a.m., Mr. Findlay got a text message saying the fire did not light.
As a result, Mr. Elliott and Mr. Frank returned to the fire department to get more gasoline and then went back to the Chandler Road home to relight it.
The police report said it was Mr. Elliott and Mr. Findlay who were bored and wanted to start the fires. In his interview with police, Mr. Lajeunesse said that “the reason for the fires was to look cool and go to fires.”
He added, “They didn’t want to go to medicals — as it is not what they look forward to. Lajeunesse stated that he joined the department to fight fires.”
Five on-call firefighters charged with arson in Hampden County, Massachusetts. Members of Brimfield & Holland departments.6 comments
In Hampden County, Massachusetts, five call firefighters were arrested last night. They have been charged wih fires in vacant buildings in Brimfield and Holland. All five entered pleas of not guilty.
No one was hurt in the three fires in June and July, but the alleged actions of the five young men drew denunciations from their chiefs, State Fire Marshal Stephen D. Coan and Hampden District Attorney William M. Bennett said today.
“The conduct of these defendants is outrageous,” Bennett said in a statement today. “Their callous disregard for the safety of the community and the safety of the dedicated firefighters who had to respond to the scene of the fires is shocking. It is a very sad day when people pledged to serve the public become a serious danger to the public.”
Robert McCarthy, president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts, the union which represents 12,000 career firefighters in the state — not call firefighters — had harsh words for the accused men.
“I’m shocked. It’s tragic,” he said in a telephone interview. “As far as I’m concerned, they should be punished to the fullest extent of the law.”
Jennifer Mieth, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Fire Services, said the firefighters did help put out the three fires but she could not say whether the men started the fires so they could get paid.
“A firefighter accused of deliberately setting fires betrays the public’s trust and destroys the credibility of the fire service,” state Fire Marshal Stephen D. Coan said in a statement. “It is also a betrayal of the trust firefighters need to place in one another to see that everyone goes home at the end of the day.”
Charged with burning of a building are:
- Patrick K. Elliott, 19, of 12 Power Station Road, Charlton, a call firefighter with the Brimfield Fire Department.
- Brian S. Findlay, 18, of 85 Armatage Road, Ashford, Conn., a call firefighter with the Brimfield and Holland fire departments.
- Jordan R. Frank, 18, of 19 Cross St., West Brookfield, a call firefighter with the Brimfield Fire Department.
- Dylan J. Lajeunesse, 18, of 21 Union Road, Holland, a call firefighter with the Holland Fire Department.
- Donald C. Moores, 20, of 3 Forest Drive, Brimfield, a call firefighter with the Brimfield and Holland fire departments.
Holland Fire Chief Paul Foster said: “Unfortunately the actions of these five young men gives the entire fire service a black eye, which is unfair to the decent, honest members of the Holland and Brimfield Fire Departments who volunteer their time away from their families to properly train and respond to emergencies to protect their neighbors at all hours of the day or night.”
Early video and fireground audio from office building fire in NJ: This is from Sunday in Bridgewater Township, New Jersey. The fire was in a medical office building. Click here for the Google Maps Street View of the building.
DC fire investigators get blasted by the city’s own lawyers: The latest people taking a shot at the DC Fire & EMS Department are the lawyers whose job it is to defend the department in a lawsuit over the April, 2007 fire at the Georgetown Library. Washington City Paper’s Jason Cherkis has the emails from the Office of the Attorney General wondering why fire investigators can’t produce the notebooks and other documents that have long been requested in the case. In one email, a city attorney writes, “This is a 13+million dollar law suit. Enough for DC to hire many firefighters, or lawyers for that matter (or avoid layoffs or furloughs). Is there nothing that can be done to get this information?”
Another city lawyer wrote, after hearing that notebooks don’t exist, “If indeed there are no notes or diagrams, both for the purpose of trial preparation and to respond to the motions for sanctions, can the investigators explain why they did not follow the national standards? Is it that they weren’t trained on these standards, or they forgot, etc.?”
Canary in a coal mine: The sensitivity of birds to carbon monoxide is why canaries were used as crude CO alarms in mines. It is apparently why 23 out of 24 birds in a Rockville, Maryland house died during a fire early yesterday morning. Click here to read and watch the story.
Fire chief accused of fondling police dispatcher gets pension: Former Truro, Massachusetts fire chief E. Thomas Prada resigned in March, 2008 shortly after he was accused of grabbing the breasts of an on-duty police dispatcher. Prada had been the part-time chief for 20-years and a call firefighter with the department for 49-years. A retirement board ruling now allows Prada to keep his pension. Read more.
Deadly arson in Oklahoma City: Firegeezer has the details and the video of a fire believe set in two places in a wood frame apartment building that killed three people Tuesday morning.
Almost 40-year battle over LODD: An interesting story how a 26-year-old Santa Barbara County firefighter collapsed and died in 1970. His widow has now gone to court to in an effort to reverse the retirement board’s ruling that the death was not service related, even though Mark Common’s name is on the California Firefighters Memorial.
Former fire chief elected mayor in Toledo, Ohio: Mike Bell had been the Toledo fire chief for 17 years and most recently the state fire marshal. He will now be the new mayor, having beat out an old high school classmate. Chief Bell calls the city’s current economic situation a three-alarm fire.
Four firefighters hurt at garage fire: A variety of injuries as fire spread to two garages in Pelham, New York. Here’s the story.
Mayor outlines plan to pay back OT to firefighters: Louisville’s mayor explains how he is coming up with the $45 million to settle that years long suit over firefighter’s overtime. It is expected that 800 former and current firefighters will share in the money with pay-outs ranging from $100 to $120,000. Read more.
L.A. geyser: No fire engines disappearing on this one, but nice pictures of a water main putting on a show. Click here.
A call for 9-11 video: Greg Jacobs with Siskel/Jacobs Productions has asked me to pass along this request for video-
The producers of the Emmy-winning documentary 102 Minutes That Changed America are seeking amateur and professional video from 9/11 in and around Washington, D.C. for a forthcoming National Geographic Channel documentary. That includes footage of buildings being evacuated, man-on-the-street conversations, home movies of people responding to the news, saved phone messages, etc.—anything that helps illustrate not just what happened, but how the day felt. If you have or know of any such material, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fiery truck crash on I-95: Click here for details of an overnight wreck in Fairfax County Virginia near the Lorton exit. Video shot by Rob Barrett.