Woman Charged in Fatal Houston Day Care Fire Turns Herself In

PHOTO Jessica Tata
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The Houston woman charged in a day care fire that killed four toddlers turned herself in today to U.S. officials in Nigeria, according to her brother.

Ron Tata told ABC station KTRK-TV in Houston this morning that his sister, 22-year-old Jessica Tata, surrendered today in Nigeria, where she fled following the Feb. 24 fire.

U.S. government officials have not confirmed that the woman is in custody, but Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee also said embassy officials told her Jessica Tata had turned herself in.

Tata, who ran Jackie's Child Care out of her home in Houston, was charged in February with one count of reckless bodily injury to a child, and bond was set at $500,000. But prosecutors realized that Tata had already fled the country.

She now faces four manslaughter charges as well as 10 other charges, including reckless injury of a child and child abandonment.

Toddlers Elizabeth Kajoh, Kendyll Stradford, Elias Castillo and Shomari Dickerson died in the fire at the west Houston home day care.

Prosecutors allege that Tata left the children alone in the house while she went shopping, and while she was gone, the fire broke out on a stove-top burner that had been left on. She told investigators she was in the bathroom when the fire started.

Extradition agreements between the United States and Nigeria state that in cases of manslaughter, individuals can be sent back to their home country, which is expected to quicken her return to face charges.

Tiffany Amber Dickerson, the mother of 3-year-old Shomari Dickerson and Makayla Dickerson, who is still recovering from severe burns, said she was glad Tata turned herself in.

"I'm very happy that her guilt finally came over her," Dickerson said, adding that she cannot express what she's like to say to Tata if she were able to speak with her today.

Operator of Day Care Fled to Nigeria After Fatal Fire

The fact that Tata was able to leave the country while prosecutors and fire officials were investigating the fatal fire outraged many in the Houston area.

The Harris County District Attorney's office told ABC News affiliate KTRK they did not know Tata was a flight risk and were unaware that she had left the country until the Monday following the fire.

But Houston Fire Marshal Richard Galvan told the Houston Chronicle that an arson investigator warned prosecutors they had learned Tata might be preparing to leave the country.

The U.S. Marshals enlisted the Houston Fire Department and Harris County District Attorneys to assist in the search for Tata, Deputy U.S. Marshal Alfredo Perez said.

According to an affidavit in the case, Tata was allegedly shopping at Target at the time the fire started.

"If she had to go to the store, why wouldn't she take them. She had a big van for all the kids to go," Dickerson said. "It's so much to give your trust to someone with a baby you've carried for nine months."

The 22-year-old mom was working as a technician at West Houston Medical Center the day of the fire, when two of the seven injured children were brought in.

Dickerson didn't know that the children were from the day care she used until she got a phone call from her 5-year-old daughter's school asking why no one had picked up the little girl after class.

Dickerson called Jackie's Child Care, the day care run out of Tata's home.

"A man's voice answered and said, 'I'm so sorry. There's been a fire and all the children have been rushed to the hospital.' I just dropped to the floor," she said.

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