A girl from Minnesota has died after being badly burned in a car fire caused by a man who was cooking on a portable stove in the parking lot of a Walmart.
Essie McKenzie’s daughters, aged six and nine, had been left alone in their van while their mother, 33, shopped inside the store for around an hour.
While she did so, Roberto L. Hipolito, 70, of Long Beach, California had lit a stove next to the girl’s vehicle which suddenly got out of control.
A man who used a hot stove didn’t allow it to cool before he left it in his van and went into the store. The van then caught fire, and also spread to another vehicle with two young girls inside
Six-year-old Ty’rah White died Tuesday after being badly burned when two vans parked side-by-side caught fire outside a Minnesota Walmart
Two charred vehicles sit in the parking lot of a Walmart in Fridley, Minnesota. Two young sisters suffered critical burns and one later died when the two vans caught fire
Roberto Lino Hipolito, 70, put a hot cook stove in his van, causing it to catch fire and spread to another van, burning two young sisters and killing one of them. He has been charged with second-degree manslaughter and negligent fire
The hot stove ignited a blaze next to the van in which the girls were believed to have been sleeping.
Six-year-old Ty’rah White died while her nine-year-old sister, Taraji, remains in critical condition.
Hipolito is charged with one count of second-degree manslaughter and two counts of negligent fire.
Hipolito admitted to authorities that he was using a stove near the van to cook while the van was parked outside the store.
Video surveillance from moments just before the blaze showed Hipolito cooking something on the stove as it sat on the pavement outside behind the van.
‘After cooking, and without significant time to allow the stove to cool, Hipolito puts the stove in the rear of the vehicle,’ a police report read.
Hipolito told law enforcement that he then placed pillows and blankets in the area where the stove was located before driving the van to a spot closer to the store.
Hipolito then said he went inside the store with the fire starting just moments later. His is told by passers-by that the rear of their van was on fire.
‘She gets out and tries to remove belongings, but the fire intensifies within thirty seconds of the rear door being opened. Within 3-4 minutes the two vehicles on each side of the van are also on fire, including the one from which the children were ultimately recovered,’ the complaint said.
33-year-old Essie McKenzie’s is pictured with her three children including six-year-old Ty’rah White who died on Tuesday
As firefighters arriving on scene and began dousing the flames, McKenzie ‘ran out of the store screaming that her kids were in one of the vehicles.’
Hipolito’s wife fled managed to escape from the vehicle unharmed according to the Star Tribune and tried to remove belongings, but the flames were to intense.
The Sheriff’s Office is also referring the case to the county’s Child Protective Services ‘because the children were left in the van for quite some time,’ Anoka County Sheriff’s Lt. Daniel Douglas said.
The sisters, Terrell and Taraji were her best friends according to a GoFundMe page started by the family which has managed to raise $8,000 in six days.
Fire investigators looked over the charred remains of a van in a Fridley Walmart parking lot
The girls’ mother from Coon Rapids, Minnesota, said Ty’rah was ‘such a bright kid’ with ‘a huge personality,’ and said her daughter ‘loved people.’
‘My baby fought a good fight. She was so strong through the whole process. She was even stronger than I was,’ McKenzie told WCCO-TV.
McKenzie told the station she let her daughters sleep in the van while she ran into the store to grab something. The sheriff’s office says McKenzie cooperated with law officers at the scene.
Fire investigators came to a preliminary conclusion that the fire started in the rear of Hipolito’s Dodge Caravan and may have been caused by a cook stove recovered from the van, the complaint said.
When asked about the stove, Hipolito said he had not used it for several days, the complaint said. He later clarified that he had used the stove the previous night.
Walmart is well known for allowing overnight RV parking at some locations, and the company’s corporate website says it does so ‘as we are able,’ with permission coming from individual store managers.