How was woman charged in fire able to flee?

March 1, 2011 7:31:14 PM PST
The woman accused in a day care fire that killed four young children is now half a world away. As efforts are made to bring her back to face charges, new questions are being raised and people want to know how she was able to flee in the first place. Jessica Tata is charged with felony injury to a child involving serious bodily injury for the day care fire that resulted in the deaths of four toddlers last week. International efforts are underway to figure out how to return day care owner Tata back to Houston. Tata has left the country and is now reportedly in Nigeria.

There is a lot of finger pointing going on today over how Tata was able to evade arrest.

We received information early Monday morning that Tata had fled the country to Nigeria. The Houston Fire Department confirmed that on Monday afternoon.

Arson investigators are blaming prosecutors for not accepting charges on Tata more quickly, while prosecutors are blaming investigators for not having enough evidence to charge her until Sunday.

We went to Tata's relative's house in west Houston Tuesday morning where we saw her family loading duffel bags and suitcases into a vehicle. They refused to answer any questions as they left their home.

At the scene of the fire late Tuesday morning, we found restoration crews working inside the home, apparently doing so at the request of Tata's family.

A spokesperson with the U.S. Marshal's Office told us they are aggressively hunting Tata down as fugitive, which means they will be interviewing her family, friends and neighbors to try to find out exactly where she may be. They also said they will be doing database searches.

Once Tata is located and arrested, she will be extradited back to Texas which could take days or weeks, depending on the laws in the country where she is found.

Day care owner charged in fatal fire flees to Nigeria

A home day care operator charged in a fire that killed four children has fled the country and is in Nigeria. Now Eyewitness News has learned that arson investigators never met with Jessica Tata following the fire.

The Harris County District Attorney's Office says DA Pat Lykos is now furious that she didn't know there was an issue with suspect Tata's whereabouts until late Monday afternoon after the Houston Fire Department made public the fact that they now believe that Tata is in Nigeria.

Lisa Campbell with the HFD's arson investigative division shares the other side of the story. She says they have met with the DA's office every day on this case since this fire occurred. Only on Sunday did the DA's office accept charge of reckless bodily injury to a child with serious bodily injury.

The charge carries a sentence of two to 10 years in prison. Prosecutors have not said whether they plan to file additional charges against Tata. Her bond has been set at $500,000.

The Houston Fire Department says Tata is half a world away in Nigeria. The fire department won't say if she is in custody, exactly how she fled the United States and how they know she is there.

KTRK legal analyst Joel Androphy says this creates a unique set of problems for authorities.

He said, "If you're leaving the country to go to a different part of the world, it's very hard to find people. It's very difficult to arrange to have people brought back. Some countries won't even honor extradition agreements and most are very difficult."

Tata is accused of felony injury to a child after the fire at the west Houston day care last week where four children were killed. Eyewitnesses told authorities it appeared that no adults were inside at the time of the fire. They also said Tata appeared to have returned after the fire started.

According to court documents just released on Monday, investigators say they believe the fire began in the kitchen of the home. They found a burner which allegedly was left on -- an electric stove with a pot containing oil on the burner. Who left that burner on is unclear. The answer might lie with Jessica Tata. Investigators are now working on bringing her home to Houston.

HFD says it has now asked to the US Marshals to go to Nigeria and bring Tata home. They won't say how they found her there, or if she is in custody.

The fire at the Jackie's Day Care on Crest Park Drive last Thursday killed four children and injured three more. All of them were under the age of three. Two surviving children remain in critical, but stable, condition at Shriner's Hospital in Galveston.

Family of child killed in fire reacts to news Tata's fled

One of the children who died in the fire is 19-month-old Elizabeth Kajoh. Her father, Emanuel Kajoh, says he doesn't want to get caught up in the legal aspects.

"The main issue is that my daughter is dead," he said.

But Kajoh encouraged Tata to return, for her own conscience.

"That is the best way for her to heal," Kajoh said. "That is the only way to help her to heal. Whatever consequences there is, if you face it and you're able to pull through it, you heal better."