MINNEAPOLIS – A 6-year-old girl has died and her sister is hospitalized with critical injuries after a van caught fire in a Minnesota parking lot Tuesday and consumed several other vehicles.
Roberto Hipolito, 70, faces charges of manslaughter, and negligent fire after the blaze spread to two vehicles on both sides of his van.
Ty’rah White, 6, and her 9-year-old sister, Taraji, were in a vehicle parked next to the van when the fire started around 7:15 a.m., according to the Star Tribune. They were rushed to an area hospital where Ty’rah died Tuesday night. Taraji remains in critical condition Wednesday.
“My baby fought a good fight,” her mother, 33-year-old Essie McKenzie, told WCCO. “She was so strong through the whole process. She was even stronger than I was.”
Police said the girls’ mother left them for about 45 minutes to an hour in a transit van she uses for work.
Fridley police suspect the blaze may have been caused by a camp stove in the van. Hipolito, from Long Beach, California told investigators he has been sleeping in the vehicle with his wife, according to a criminal complaint. His wife, who was in the van when the fire started, managed to escape unharmed.
He said he had been cooking that morning and remembered throwing bedding items where the stove was, the complaint says.
Police say both Hipolito and McKenzie were in the Walmart shopping when the fire happened.
The sheriff’s office has reportedly notified Anoka County Child Protective Services because of the amount of time McKenzie left them alone while she shopped, but police say it’s not illegal to leave children of that age in a vehicle.
A GoFundMe describes Ty’rah as a lovable, beautiful girl who was best friends with her sister and brother, Terrell, who was away on a trip that day.
“The morning of the incident Ty’rah told her siblings Terrell and Taraji to ‘come on in guys, group hug.'” according to the fundraiser. “Ty’rah then told her big bro ‘safe travels’ as he and his grandma Sheena headed to Arizona!”