FAIRFIELD (BCN) — A second report about the origin of a Fairfield fire that killed four children delayed a preliminary hearing for the victims’ mothers Friday in Solano County Superior Court.
Shetarra James, 24, whose three children died in the fire, and Latisha James, 23, who lost her daughter, are charged with four counts each of involuntary manslaughter and child neglect.
Solano County Superior Court Judge Peter B. Foor delayed continuation of their preliminary hearing Friday morning “out of an abundance of caution” until Dec. 14. Defense attorney Amy Moron had asked for more time to review a fire investigator’s second report about the April 28 blaze at 728 Delaware St.
“How it happened and started are different,” Morton said of the two reports.
Fire investigators said candles left burning inside the home started the 9 p.m. blaze while the two mothers were outside the apartment.
The families were using candles because their electricity was tuned off after they did not pay their bill, the Solano County District Attorney’s Office said.
Deputy District Attorney Karen Jensen said in court Friday there were actually two fires inside the apartment – one near the television set and one on a couch across the living room.
“This has no bearing on the child neglect charges,” Jensen said after the hearing. “The cause of the fire is still accidental. The neglect applies to the mothers leaving the children alone while the candles were burning.”
She said it was known all along there were two fires.
Fire investigators said a candle on top of the television started a fire when it fell off the television onto a mattress.
Another report dated Nov. 23 said the shirtsleeve of 4-year-old Robert Charles Jr., caught fire. Robert was sitting on the couch, and the three youngest children—Natalie Rogers and Nevaeh Nunn, both 2, and Keviana Morgan, 1 — were strapped into strollers, Jensen said.
“He ran in panic through the apartment, causing those two fires to communicate (combine),” Jensen said.
The fire inspector’s first report could not reconcile how the fire on the couch started, Jensen said.
Morton told the judge that means the theory of the cause and origin of the fire in the reports is now inconsistent and introduces a second hypothesis.
She said she needs more time to review the reports and prepare her cross-examination of the fire inspector and other firefighters who were at the scene.
“Whether the fire was criminal negligence by my client is the key issue,” Morton said. “It’s not as simple as saying the mothers should have stayed inside.”
After the hearing, Morton also said she is disputing reports the two mothers were outside the apartment for 30 minutes while the children were alone.
Jensen said that if the oldest child did indeed spread the fire in the apartment, it doesn’t change the mothers’ responsibilities.
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