District Attorney Pat Lykos had an afternoon press conference today to rebut claims that her office did not act quickly enough in the case of Jessica Tata, who owned a daycare where four kids died in a fire, allowing Tata to escape to Nigeria.
"Suggestions that anyone in the district attorney's office unreasonably delayed the filing of criminal charges against Miss Tata, or that she could have been arrested and held in custody during the pendency of this investigation -- these allegations are outrageous," Lykos said.
HFD arson investigators have told reporters that they believe the DA's office could have filed charges sooner, but Lykos said the investigators themselves could have filed and arrested Tata.
Here's the timeline of events according to Lykos:
-- Thursday, Feb. 24 -- 1:39pm -- A fire at Jackie's Child Care was reported to 911
-- Thursday, 5pm -- Assistant District Attorney was telephoned regarding a proposed search warrant
-- Friday, Feb. 25 -- Investigator from the arson bureau called ADA about a conflict from witnesses as to whether the defendant was in the home at the time of the time and whether there was another adult in the home at the time of the fire. Investigator was advised more interviews were needed and to speak to Miss Tata.
-- Sunday, Feb. 27 -- Another phone call to ADA. He advised them to then present their evidence and file charges. ADA called intake and instructed them as to the proper charges.
-- Sunday, 9pm -- Fire department investigator arrived at intake and charges were filed. Probable cause was not found by the magistrate
-- Monday, Feb. 28 -- New probable cause affidavit was drafted and charges were filed and probable cause was found by the magistrate
Security cameras show Tata leaving a Target just five minutes before the 911 call of a fire at the daycare center is made.
Officials do expect Tata to be extradited from Nigeria once she is found. (Finding her, of course, may not be easy.)
Lykos also announced nine additional charges have been filed against her.
Update: And here is HFD's response and timetable:
On February 24, 2011, at 2:19pm, investigators of the Houston Fire and Arson Investigation Division received the notification from Houston Fire Department Dispatch Office that a residential fire had occurred at 2810 Crest Park. HFD Dispatch relayed that the fire occurred at a daycare center and as many as nine children were fire victims. A team of investigators proceeded to the location. The division's Deputy Chief and Fire Marshal were notified of the incident and also responded to the scene.
HFD Dispatch received a 911 call at 13:29 hours (1:29 p.m.) hours and dispatched units at 13:30 hours. Engine 75 arrived on location at approximately 13:42 (1:42 p.m.) and quickly attacked the fire.
Investigators arrived to the fire scene at approximately 15:03 (3:03 p.m.) hours to conduct the fire scene examination. Investigators were assigned the task to determine the origin and cause of the fire. Other investigators canvassed the area for witnesses. Another group of investigators responded to area hospitals in an effort to obtain the names of the fire victims and parent information.
On-scene investigators learned that 7 children had been rescued from the daycare, 3 children were pronounced dead at hospitals, and 4 children were hospitalized with serious injuries.
HFD Command Staff members were attempting to have the caretaker identify the children by photographs in an effort to direct the parents to the appropriate hospitals.
Investigators attempted to interview the caretaker at the scene. She made only a brief statement, indicating she had placed oil on the stove, went to the bathroom, came out and could not see because of the dense smoke.
Before investigators could transport the caretaker to Arson Headquarters for an interview, she indicated she needed medical attention. Caretaker was transported by HFD ambulance to a local hospital. Investigators attempted to interview the caretaker while at the hospital, but were unable because she was being treated. Caretaker's brother told investigators that she would make a statement after treatment. After treatment, investigators attempted to conduct an interview at the hospital in an effort to learn what caused the fire. Caretaker complained of having amnesia and would not answer questions coherently.
On-scene investigators learned through 911 caller and witnesses that the caretaker drove up to the daycare alone and, within seconds, heard the caretaker screaming for help and observed smoke coming from the residence. Investigators also learned that witnesses did not see any other employee exit the building nor were any adult victims rescued from the building.
1st time contacted ADA Thursday 17:00 hrs (5:00 p.m.): On-scene investigators also observed a bag on the front seat of the daycare's van and believed it may have contained groceries. At approximately 17:00 hours, investigators contacted the Chief ADA (Special Crimes) in an effort to obtain a search warrant for the van. Investigators were attempting to locate a sales receipt so that they could identify the store and obtain store video. Investigators explained the facts surrounding the case. Chief ADA stated there was no probable cause for a search warrant. Stated maybe the caretaker left someone at the facility if she went to the store.
While investigators were conducting the origin and cause investigation, they found a plastic bag with an unopened fruit drink and a receipt from a nearby store. The time on the receipt (1:18 p.m.) indicated the items were purchased minutes prior to the alarm time.
On Thursday at approximately 18:30 hours (6:30 p.m)
Investigators were able to obtain surveillance video from the nearby store showing the caretaker arriving and leaving near the time the fire was reported. Out of camera sight 1:24 p.m. Alarm time was 1:29 p.m.
A meeting was held with all investigators to discuss the facts surrounding the incident. On-scene investigators determined that the fire originated from the stovetop. The fire damage was confined to the kitchen area and the rest of the building sustained heavy smoke damage. Several witnesses stated the daycare operator drove up and within seconds noticed the fire.
2nd Time contacted ADA Intake 02:16 Friday: Investigators believed that they had probable cause that the caretaker had left the children alone. Investigators contacted the Harris County ADA's office and relayed the facts surrounding this incident. The ADA stated she would discuss investigators' findings with another Chief ADA and would contact investigators. After their meeting, Chief ADA informed investigators that no charges would be accepted and requested the investigators interview the caretaker and confirm if there were other employees present.
On Friday, February 25th, investigators and HPD Homicide Detective met to discuss a plan of action. An investigator and homicide detective attempted to locate the caretaker and conduct an interview. When the caretaker was located, she announced she had hired an attorney and did not want to give a statement without her attorney.
On that same day, investigators re-interviewed witnesses to clarify discrepancies.
On that same day, investigators found that according to the State of Texas, the caretaker was the only employee listed on their records.
On that same day, Investigators also received a Crime Stoppers tip that the caretaker might leave to Nigeria.
3rd Time: (during day Friday at 12:00p.m. noon) Above information was relayed to Chief ADA of Special Crimes. Chief ADA's rationale was the caretaker was born in United States, and had been here a long time and did not consider the tip valid. ADA denied charges.
ADA requested investigators interview all of the parents to obtain information about any other employees and to obtain information from work force. Also need to verify State agency information (Family and Protective Services Child Care licensing) that she was the only employee. The facility was registered home day care not a commercial day care. No license is issued for a home day care, but a permit is issued.
Investigators were unsuccessful in making contact with parents.
4th Time at about 4:30 p.m. ADA contacted investigators that the incident was attracting media attention and inquired if any new information had been obtained. Investigators advised that no new information was available and asked if charges would be accepted. ADA denied charges.
On Saturday February 26th, investigators canvassed the area in an effort to verify if neighbors had seen other employees. Neighbors denied ever seeing any other employees.
Investigators were able to contact two of the 7 families and obtain statements.
Investigators received a call that a neighbor might have information. Conducted an interview and obtained statement.
No contact with ADA's office because the other families had not been located.
5th Time: On Sunday, February 27 between 10:30-11:00 a.m. Investigators relayed all of the facts and new information to Chief ADA Special Crimes, who denied charges, and requested investigators to interview every parent to verify if parents had ever seen another employee at the daycare facility.
Investigators were able to contact the remaining families, all of whom denied ever seeing any other employee.
6th Time was between 1-2 p.m.: Information was relayed to Chief ADA, charges were accepted and filed. While preparing probable affidavit, investigators received information from an ICE agent that the caretaker had boarded a flight from Dallas to Atlanta, and Atlanta to Lagos, Nigeria, on Saturday, February 26, 2011.
Investigators notified Chief ADA of the findings. Investigators filed charges.
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