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Grieving Mom Sues Texas for Daycare Fire

HOUSTON (CN) - A mother says her 3-year-old daughter died and her 2-year-old daughter was seriously injured in a fire at a daycare center that broke out when its 22-year-old owner left them and five other children unattended to go shopping at Target. The mother also sued Texas, claiming it licensed Jessica Tata's daycare center despite her "history of arson."

"All of the children in the daycare on the date of the accident were under the age of 4 years old," Tiffany Dickerson says in her complaint in Harris County Court. "Nonetheless, Jessica Tata, the owner of Jackie's Child Care and the sole adult on the premises on February 24, 2011, left the seven children under her care unattended and went to Target."

When Tata returned, the daycare center was "engulfed in flames and toxic smoke," Dickerson says.

"Four children lost their lives in the fire, including Shomari Leon Dickerson; three children received serious injuries, including Makayla Dickerson," the complaint states.

Dickerson says the State of Texas "failed to follow their own minimum standards" by not verifying information Tata submitted in her daycare license application.

"If this defendant had thoroughly investigated Jessica Tata, they would have discovered that she had a history of arson and was unqualified to be responsible for children in a daycare setting," Dickerson says. "Jessica Tata stated specifically in her application that she had never been accused of a felony as an adult or as a juvenile.

"This is a blatant misrepresentation; arson is a second-degree felony."

Dickerson adds: "The State of Texas ... misrepresents to parents that the childcare establishments they regulate are inspected, that the childcare providers are trained, and that health and safety standards are enforced. However, the minimum requirements for a registered child-care home do not include any training, undergo minimal inspection, and negligible enforcement.

"The State of Texas does not require home daycare centers to be inspected by a fire department if the home is a one story home. Despite the minimum standards the state establishes for these establishments, inspections are only required every two years."

Texas "encourages parents to use licensed childcare and leads parents to believe there are certain standards a daycare has met to become licensed, when in fact, there are no standards," Dickerson says. (VII)

Dickerson also sued Tata's parents Godfrey and Josephine Tata, claiming they helped their unqualified daughter establish a day care, and escape prosecution in the United States.

Two days after the fire, which according to a criminal complaint was started by a pan of oil on a stove burner, Tata fled to her native Nigeria, the Houston Chronicle reported. Interpol officers caught Tata in Nigeria and police returned her to Houston early Tuesday, the Chronicle reported.

Tata was arraigned Wednesday on charges of manslaughter, reckless injury to a child and abandoning a child. She pleaded not guilty.

Tiffany Dickerson seeks punitive damages from Jessica Tata, Texas, and Godfrey and Josephine Tata, alleging wrongful death and gross negligence.

She is represented by Michael Gallagher.

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