Day care operator in Houston fire faces 4 manslaughter charges

Investigators say she was shopping and had left the seven children she was taking care of alone when the fire began

By Juan A. Lozano
The Associated Press

HOUSTON — A Houston day care operator accused of leaving the children she was watching alone when a fire broke out at the facility has been charged with manslaughter in the deaths of four of them, federal officials said Friday.

The U.S. Marshals Service announced in a news release that the new indictments were handed down Thursday by a grand jury in Houston. She had already been charged with seven counts of reckless injury to a child and three counts of abandoning a child.

Authorities believe Tata, 22, a U.S. citizen, fled to Nigeria before she could be charged in the case.

Investigators say Tata was shopping and had left the seven children she was taking care of alone on Feb. 24 when the fire began. They say surveillance video shows she was at a nearby Target store at the time.

Attempts by The Associated Press to contact Tata's family in person and by phone at multiple addresses and telephone listings have been unsuccessful.

Investigators believe the fire was started by a stove top burner that had been left on. Tata told investigators the fire started in the kitchen while she was in the bathroom.

The blaze also injured three other children. Two of the injured children remained hospitalized in good condition Friday at Shiners Hospital for Children in Galveston.

The U.S. Marshals Service, which is leading the search for Tata, has put the day care operator on its list of the 15 most wanted fugitives and has offered a reward of up to $25,000.

Interpol, the international police agency, has alerted its member countries, including Nigeria, telling them that Tata is being sought by the United States.

While the new manslaughter charges have the same possible punishment as reckless injury to a child, up to 20 years in prison, they could help authorities with the extradition process if Tata is found and detained in Nigeria.

While reckless injury to a child and child abandonment are not necessarily covered by the extradition treaty between the United States and Nigeria, manslaughter is covered, said Douglas McNabb, a Houston attorney who specializes in international extradition law.

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