Owner Who Fled After Texas Day Care Fire Surrenders

A woman who fled to Nigeria after a fire at her west Houston day care killed four children last month has surrendered to authorities, her brother said Saturday.

Jessica Tata faces 14 charges, including four counts of manslaughter, in connection with the Feb. 24 blaze at Jackie's Child Care. Officials have said that Tata, 22, left seven children unattended and oil cooking on the stove while she shopped at Target. She fled to Nigeria before being charged.

Her brother, Ron Tata, 26, said she turned herself in around 11 a.m. Saturday. According to his relatives in Nigeria, workers at the U.S. Consulate in Lagos traveled to Port Harcourt to take her into custody, he said.

"She planned to do it a couple days ago, and they came over to pick her up after she called them and said she wanted to turn herself in, basically," Ron Tata said.

Details still sketchy

Officials at the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Marshals Service and the U.S. Embassy in Abuja would not confirm Ron Tata's report.

Jeff Carter, chief spokesman for the U.S. Marshals in Washington, D.C., said Tata was not in the marshals' custody; he did not know whether she was in the custody of another government agency.

An authority close to the investigation did confirm that Tata had turned herself in but would not provide any details.

Ron Tata said he wasn't sure when his sister might be brought back to the United States.

"She just feels bad about the whole situation; she just wants to bring it to an end," her brother said.

"She cares enough about the kids to turn herself in. She cares about the families," Ron Tata said. "They think she don't care. Obviously ... she feels so bad for everything that happened, the way it went down, and she just wants to get some closure, bring it to an end. She's doing the right thing -- period."

Relief in Houston

Relatives of the young victims were relieved to learn that an end may be in sight.

"I cried, but the tears were of joy," said Keisha Brown, who lost her 16-month-old son, Elias, in the fire. "All I wanted was justice and closure."

Elias' grandmother was grateful for the turn of events. "Thank you, Jesus," Jodie Brown said. "I'm relieved and excited that she's gone ahead and taken the responsibility she needed to take."

The fire killed one of Tiffany Dickerson's children and injured another.

"I don't know how she could sleep with all that guilt," Dickerson said.

Staff writers Claudia Feldman and Susan Carroll contributed to this report.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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