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Woman charged in day care fire flees to Nigeria

/ Source: The Associated Press

A home day care operator charged in connection with a deadly fire that killed four children has fled the United States, the Houston Fire Department said Monday.

Fire Department Assistant Chief Michelle McLeod said Monday that officials have found out that 22-year-old Jessica Tata has fled to Nigeria, where she is originally from.

McLeod declined to comment on how investigators determined Tata fled.

The U.S. Marshals Service in Houston has been asked to help track down Tata, said spokesman Alfredo Perez.

"Right now we are trying to confirm everything," Perez said. "Just because someone who is wanted flees to another country doesn't mean the United States isn't going to get them back and have them face justice."

Perez said if his agency confirms Tata is in Nigeria, it will ask that country to arrest her on behalf of the U.S.

Tata was charged late Sunday evening with reckless injury to a child involving serious bodily injury. The charge carries a sentence of two to 10 years in prison.

Investigators, in an arrest affidavit made public Monday, said that before the fire, Tata left the kids she was caring for without adult supervision, while a stovetop burner was on.

It was not immediately known if Tata had an attorney. Attempts by The Associated Press to contact her family in person or by phone at multiple addresses and telephone listings have been unsuccessful.

Investigators believe the burner was the source of the fire last week. Tata has been charged with reckless injury to a child involving serious bodily injury. The charge carries a sentence of two to 10 years in prison.

Houston Fire Department investigators said in the affidavit that two of Tata's neighbors described seeing her drive up on Thursday and go into the home where the day care center was located, then hearing her screaming seconds after she went in the front door. They saw smoke coming from inside.

"Both witnesses stated that it only took them a few seconds to arrive at the fire scene and they both stated they saw no adults or employees of the daycare either inside the building or running out of the building other than (Tata). It appeared to them that (Tata) was the only adult at the daycare," according to the arrest affidavit.

Tata had told neighbors immediately after the fire that the blaze started in the kitchen while she was in the bathroom. Investigators said there was an electric stove in the kitchen with a pot containing oil on the burner.

"It is believed that the burner was left on and was the heat source of the fire," according to the affidavit.

Two of the injured children remain hospitalized Monday in critical but stable condition.