The mother of six of seven children killed in an apartment fire was charged Tuesday with involuntary manslaughter after investigators discovered she was visiting a neighbor at the time, a prosecutor said.
Melinda Ragland was at an apartment about 80 yards away when the blaze started, prosecutor John Weglian said.
“We believe the evidence established that she breached her duty of care for the children,” Weglian said.
Ragland’s attorney, Charles Boyk, said he had not seen the evidence prosecutors had against her, but added that he has not talked with anyone who supports the claims that Ragland left her children alone.
The children, ages 7 months to 7 years, died of smoke inhalation Oct. 24 after the fire started on a mattress in an upstairs bedroom. Investigators said a child playing with a candle, lighter or matches started the blaze. Six siblings and a cousin were killed.
Ragland told family members and authorities that she was standing just outside her open front door when she noticed smoke coming from upstairs and tried to run back and save the children. She said was overwhelmed by smoke, then ran to a neighbor’s apartment for help.
Ragland could get two to 10 years in prison on each of seven counts of involuntary manslaughter if convicted. She was also charged with seven counts of child endangering, each offense punishable by one to five years behind bars.
Investigators determined that a smoke detector on the second floor was working but that an alarm on the first floor had been tampered with and did not work.
Prosecutor issued a summons for Ragland to appear in court, but no date was set.