Prosecutors: Mom And Sister Went To Parties, Leaving 2 Kids To Die In Fire
CHICAGO (CBS) — A young mom and her sister went to parties, leaving their unsupervised children to die in a house fire, prosecutors said.
Tatiana Meakens, 23, and her 22-year-old sister, Britany, both knew they were leaving Tatiana’s four kids home alone in West Englewood when they went out to two separate parties Friday night, it’s alleged.
Two of the kids, Javaris, 2, and Jariyah, 3, died when a hot plate the sisters left to heat the children’s bedroom started a fire early Saturday morning.
Both adults were charged with child endangerment and on Monday were each ordered held on $100,000 bond.
Appearing before Judge Israel Desierto, the sisters hung their heads as Assistant Cook County State’s Attorney Jamie Dickler laid out the allegations against them during a brief court hearing.
The sisters had discussed who would look after the children earlier Friday night, and had agreed that Tatiana would stay home in the 6400 block of South Paulina Street so Britany could go to a house party, Dickler said.
But while Britany got ready to go out, Tatiana got a call inviting her to a CD release party in Blue Island and decided to go, the prosecutor added.
“She ran out of the house even though Britany told her not to go,” Dickler said.
Britany then also left, leaving the children untended, it’s alleged.
Neither adult returned home for hours — until they learned the building had caught fire, Dickler said.
They told firefighters and police at the scene that a cousin called “Brandy” had been watching the kids but no such relative exists, the prosecutor added.
Both sisters later made statements admitting they’d left the kids unattended so that they could go party, she said.
Though Tatiana’s older children, Darnell, 7, and Marquis, 4, were able to escape the blaze, the younger children died from inhalation of soot and smoke.
Representing the sisters, public defender Marijane Placek said the sisters were “two women who live in poverty who tried literally to do the best they could” to raise the children.
“They’re unbelievable, inconsolable,” Placek told reporters, including CBS 2’s Mai Martinez.
The women had gone out “for one instance of fun” and will have their consciences scarred for the rest of their lives because they “are people who made an awful mistake,” she added.
But Placek placed some of the blame for the tragedy on the family’s landlord.
The family was being evicted by landlord Daniel Spaulding, she said, claiming Spalding had turned the heating off, forcing the sisters to heat the home by space heaters and the hot plate that caused the blaze.
Saying Spaulding was trying to leave the Meakens with “no room at the inn,” she urged the state to “take action against” the landlord.
Spaulding strongly denied all of Placek’s allegations. He said the heating was cut off and the gas meter was removed by People’s Gas because Tatiana Meakens hadn’t paid her bill.
When Tatiana called him, asking for help last week, he called People’s Gas on her behalf but wasn’t allowed to intervene because his name was not on the bill, he said.
Spaulding said he called Tatiana on Thursday — less than 36 hours before the blaze — and “advised her to find alternative accommodation until the gas issue was resolved, because I knew it was about to get cold.”
Spaulding, who also said he made no moves to evict Meakens, said during the call he also “strongly advised her not to use any space heaters or other electric heaters because they are very dangerous and consume a huge amount of electricity.”
Dickler asked the judge not to prevent the sisters from having contact with children if they make bail, as prosecutors requested, saying Tatiana’s two surviving children need their mom.
But Dickler said the surviving kids — in the custody of DCFS since the fire — were the “exact reason why” the Meakens sisters should not be kept away from children, “so that their lives are not further endangered.”
Desierto agreed, also banning the Meakens sisters from owning guns or using drugs or alcohol if they make bail.
The sisters spoke in court only to identify themselves and to indicate that they do not wish to speak further with police or prosecutors.
Prosecutors declined to comment on whether they were investigating Spaulding. Several relatives and supporters of the Meakins — some in tears — also left court without commenting.
(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2012. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)