It started with an unpaid gas bill. Tatiana Meakens’ attorney blamed the fire on the conditions imposed upon Meakens and her family on the landlord, who she argued cut off the gas as part of an attempt to evict the family at Christmas time. The landlord, Daniel Spaulding, told FOX Chicago that the gas was turned off by People’s Gas, and the meter removed, because Meakens had not paid her bill. He tried to discuss the matter with the gas company but was unable to because he was not on the bill.
He did, however, warn her not to use space heaters due to the fire risk.
It wasn’t exactly a space heater that led to the fire. It was a hot plate, which was being used to heat the children’s bedroom. Both Javaris, 2, and Jariyah, 3, died in the fire. Darnell, 7, and Marquis, 4, escaped the blaze.
Tatiana Meakens, 23, and her sister Britany Meakens, 22, were both at parties. The children were unattended. The two sisters told investigators that a relative, named Brandy, was supposed to watch the kids. There is no Brandy, according to the Chicago Tribune. Both women have been charged with child endangerment.
The sisters originally agreed that Tatiana would stay home with her children while Britany would attend a friend’s housewarming party. While Britany was getting ready, Tatiana was invited to a CD release party and skipped out – leaving her sister to watch her kids. Britany then left as well. She called her sister to warn her that her kids were left unattended.
While it may be obvious why the mother of the children was charged with endangerment, after leaving her kids unattended and in an apartment warmed by a hot plate, how does the aunt end up with charges as well?
In 1993, the child endangerment law was drastically revised. Prior to the changes, the language of the statute essentially made it impossible to charge anyone not having custody of the children with endangerment. The change made it possible to charge anyone, parent or not, with endangerment if their conduct places the life or health of a child in danger. If that danger results in serious injury or death to a child, the charge becomes a felony with a minimum sentence of two years and a maximum of ten.
Britany, fair or not, was left alone and in charge of the children. She knew, or should have known, that the apartment was heated by a significant fire hazard. By leaving the children unattended, she committed endangerment. By leaving them sleeping near a fire hazard, she also committed endangerment.
The same arguments would apply to Tatiana. While some would label this as the tragic mistake of two girls barely out of their teens, and as an unfortunate accident, the law labels it a felony.
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