Woman Charged In Ohio Fire That Killed Seven Children

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) -- The mother of six of seven children killed in an apartment fire was charged Tuesday with involuntary manslaughter, accused by investigators of being away from the home when one of the children started the fire.

Investigators told a grand jury that Melinda Ragland was inside another apartment in the complex when the fire started, said John Weglian, an assistant Lucas County prosecutor.

``We believe the evidence established that she breached her duty of care for the children,'' Weglian said.

The children, ages 7 months to 7 years, died from smoke inhalation on Oct. 24 after the fire started on a mattress in an upstairs bedroom where some of the children were playing.

A child playing with a candle, lighter or matches started the fire that killed the six siblings and a cousin, investigators said.

Investigators think that Ragland was at an apartment about 80 yards away, Weglian said.

Her mother, Ora Ragland, declined comment Tuesday. No telephone number is listed for Ragland.

The grand jury indicted Ragland on seven counts of involuntary manslaughter and seven counts of child endangering, Weglian said.

Ragland, 25, told family members that she was standing just outside her open front door when she noticed smoke coming from upstairs and tried to run back and save the children.

She said she did everything she could to get the kids out, but was overwhelmed by the smoke. She told family members that she then ran to a neighbor's apartment for help.

Ragland faces two to 10 years in prison on each count of involuntary manslaughter if convicted. Each count of child endangering carries a penalty of one to five years in prison.

Ragland's attorney, Charles Boyk, said he can't comment on her whereabouts at the time of the fire because he has not seen what evidence the prosecutor's office has obtained.

Boyk added that he has not talked with anyone who supports the claims that Ragland left her children alone.

``This whole situation has been a tremendous tragedy for Melinda and her family,'' he said.

The prosecutor's office issued a summons for Ragland to appear in court. A date hasn't been set.

Six of the children were found in an upstairs bedroom while an infant was found in a crib. Some were hiding under their beds while others were found in closets.

The victims were five sisters _ Tanija Sanders, 7 months; Talia Sanders, 1; Terri Sanders, 6; Brionna McCullough 2; and Teairia McCullough, 7; their brother, Brian McCullough, 5; and a girl cousin, Quanisha Kirk, 7.

Investigators determined that a smoke detector on the second floor was working but that an alarm on the first floor had been tampered with and did not work.

Fire officials said that if the children had been trained on how to get out of a fire, they could have survived. Investigators have said that the fire was not extremely fast moving.

At least three people in the neighborhood tried to get upstairs to help but were unable to get to the youngsters.