A 6-year-old Minnesota girl is dead and her sister badly injured after a man in a Walmart parking lot accidentally set his van on fire after cooking, police say.
Star Tribune reports that Roberto L. Hipolito, 70, was cooking on a portable stove early Wednesday morning, that he placed on a Fridley Walmart parking lot off of 8400 block of NE University Avenue. Two young girls identified Ty’rah White, 6, (pictured) and her 9-year-old sister, Taraji, were inside a Universal Transit Services van, parked next to Hipolito when his stove caught on fire and set three vehicles ablaze.
The fire quickly spread the to the children’s van, and according to authorities, the girls may have been sleeping at the time. Security footage showed that minutes before the blaze started, Hipolito was cooking on a portable stove he put on the pavement behind the van. The children’s mother was inside the store when the fire erupted.
Hipolito put the stove inside the back of his own van, which was parked side by side the Universal Transit services van when he finished cooking. Hipolito’s van, along with the children’s van and another parked car caught on fire shortly after.
“After cooking, and without significant time to allow the stove to cool, [Hipolito] puts the stove in the rear of the vehicle,” an arrest complaint read.
Hipolito reportedly admitted that he tossed blankets and pillows close to the area where he put the stove. He then walked into the store.
Police Lt. Jim Mork said the girls were alone in the van for around 45 minutes when the fire broke out. First responders found Ty’rah unresponsive with burns across most of her body. Her older sister had less-serious injuries. Both girls were rushed to Hampton County Medical Center. Ty’rah passed away from her injuries, while Taraji remains in the hospital.
Universal Transit Services company owner Emiru Hika told police that the girls’ mother, Essie McKenzie, worked for him up until July 25. He added that McKenzie was not supposed to be driving the van.
Mork said the children’s mother was “hysterical” when she learned what happened, prompting him to call in support.
“Our officers tried to comfort her, and chaplain from a local church also arrived on scene to provide comfort.”
Hipolito was arrested and charged with one count of second-degree manslaughter and two counts of negligent fire.
Meanwhile, The Sheriff’s Office reportedly referred the incident to Child Protective Services “because the children were left in the van for quite some time,” according to Anoka County Sheriff’s Lt. Daniel Douglas.
Check back with CrimeOnline as additional details become available.
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