HOUSTON - New charges were filed Friday against Jessica Tata, the day care owner accused of leaving seven children alone when a fire broke out, killing four.
Tata, 22, was the day care provider at a home in the 2800 block of Crestpark at Waypark when a fire broke out Feb. 24 shortly before 1:30 p.m. The house served as a day care facility called Jackie's Child Care.
Four felony manslaughter charges were filed against Tata on Friday. The Harris County District Attorney's Office said she has been charged with a total of 14 felonies, including seven counts of reckless injury to a child and three counts of child abandonment.
The new charges are likely to help extradition proceedings if Tata is found in Nigeria, where she is believed to have fled.
Three children, Elizabeth Kojah, of Cypress, and Kendyll Stradford, of Katy, both 20 months old; and Shomari Dickerson, 3, died the day of the fire. A fourth child, Elias Castillo, died two days later.
Two of the surviving children are at Shriners Hospital for Children in Galveston in critical condition. The third surviving child has been released from the hospital.
Arson investigators said the fire started in the kitchen after someone left a pot of oil sitting on a hot burner.
Houston Fire Department officials said Tata was grocery shopping at a nearby Target store when the fire started. Detectives said security video showed her arriving at the store at 1:09 p.m. and driving away from the store at 1:24 p.m. The children had been left home alone, investigators said.
Witnesses said Tata returned as smoke began billowing out of the home day care.
Before she could be arrested, Tata left the country, investigators said. Houston Fire Department officials said she flew from Dallas to Atlanta and then took a flight to Nigeria on Saturday. She left before charges were filed against her, so there was no reason for airport officials to stop her.
Houston Fire Chief Terry Garrison said Tata was not arrested immediately because she appeared to be a victim.
Garrison said Tata originally told investigators that she was in the bathroom when the fire occurred. He said that Tata later claimed to have amnesia and did not recognize anyone.
U.S. marshals have filed federal charges of unlawful flight to avoid prosecution, and HFD said it issued a Red Notice to Interpol in hopes that Tata can be arrested in Nigeria.
Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos said Tata is a U.S. citizen who was born in Harris County. She attended Katy's Taylor High School.
Anyone with information on Tata's whereabouts is asked to contact the U.S. marshal's office at 713-718-4259. Crime Stoppers has issued a $5,000 reward for information leading to her arrest. Anyone with information is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 713-222-TIPS.
Copyright 2011 by Click2Houston.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.