License in question after fatal day care fire

March 3, 2011 3:19:24 PM PST
It has been one week since fire erupted inside a west Houston in-home day care, killing four children. The day care owner, Jessica Tata, is still on the run. According to federal court papers released Thursday, Jessica Tata flew from Dallas to Atlanta and then onto Nigeria, one day after arson investigators received a tip that she may run.

While there are still questions about how Tata managed to elude authorities, there is an even bigger question -- How was she able to get a day care license in the first place?

Tata underwent a criminal background check, but told the licensing agency on her application she had no juvenile record despite having served probation for setting a trash can fire her brother says she set as a teenager while attending Katy ISD's Taylor High School.

"Those criminal background checks will routinely pick up juvenile records and in this particular case, it did not pick up an arson. Subsequent to the fire, we ran it twice after the fire and arson did not come up either instance," Patrick Crimmins of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services told us over the phone.

So if the information is readily available then why wasn't it there? And who's to blame?

Here' s how the process works. The TDFPS runs its background checks against the Texas Department of Public Safety's database. A DPS spokesperson told us it's the arresting agency and the district clerk's responsibility to report the crimes to DPS. But if a law enforcement agency fails to report a crime, then the court information will not be entered into the database.

"We don't have any documentation that there was an arson case, so we don't know if she lied on the application or not," Crimmins said.

KTRK Legal Analyst Joel Androphy says while Tata was obligated to disclose her juvenile history, she could have legitimately been confused about her obligations.

"Although it has a request for all your information whether as an adult or juvenile, a lot of people are under the assumption that all juvenile records are sealed, you don't have to disclose them so she may have been misinformed," Androphy said.

Tata's attorney met with her last Friday and said she never gave him any indication that she was going to run.

In addition to the federal charge of flight to avoid prosecution, Tata, 22, is charged with six counts of reckless injury to a child and three counts of abandoning a child.

Funeral for one of the victims

Today was the first funeral for one of the four young victims killed in the daycare fire.

Services for 3-year-old Shomari Dickerson took place this afternoon at a funeral home in north Houston. Funerals are also planned in the coming days for the three other victims who lost their lives -- 20-month-old Kendall Stradford, 19-month-old Elizabeth Kajoh, and 18-month-old Elias Castillo.

Meanwhile, a memorial filled with teddy bears, flowers, and balloons continues to grow outside the in-home day care that burned.

Stay with Eyewitness News and for the latest developments on this story.