Prosecutors: Mom and sister went to parties, leaving kids to die in fire
BY Kim JANSSEN Staff Reporterfirstname.lastname@example.org December 24, 2012 8:41AM
Balloons are released during a candlelight memorial service for Javaris and Jariyah Meakens the night after they died in a fire in their home 6420 S. Paulina in West Englewood on Dec. 22, 2012. Their mother, Tatiana Meakens, was not home when the fire started. She pleaded guilty to two counts of child endangerment was sentenced her to five years in prison Thursday. | Sun-Times files
Updated: January 26, 2013 6:15AM
The gas had been cut off — and as the temperature plunged below freezing, her four kids were keeping warm by the heat of dangerous electric space heaters and a hot plate.
But Tatiana Meakens was so desperate to party Friday night that she left her young family home alone, prosecutors say.
It proved to be a fatal decision.
Meakens, 23, and her sister Brittany, 22, both hung their heads in silence in court Christmas Eve as prosecutors described how a fire caused by the hot plate at the family’s unsupervised Englewood home claimed the lives of little Javaris Davis, 2, and Jariyah Meakens, 3, early Saturday.
Assistant Cook County State’s Attorney Jamie Dickler alleged that the sisters — both charged with felony child endangerment and both ordered held on bond of $100,000 on Monday — knew the kids would be left unattended when they each decided to go to separate parties.
They had discussed who would look after Javaris, Jariyah, and their older siblings Darnell, 7, and Marquis, 4, earlier that evening, and agreed that Tatiana would stay at home, in the 6400 block of South Paulina, so that Brittany could go to a house party, Dickler said.
But while Brittany got ready, Tatiana got a call inviting her to a CD release party in Blue Island and decided to go, the prosecutor added.
“She ran out of the house even though Brittany told her not to go,” Dickler said.
Brittany then also left, leaving the children untended, it’s alleged.
Neither adult returned for hours — until they learned that the building had caught fire, Dickler said.
And when they finally arrived at the scene of the fire, they came up with a cover story, telling police and firefighters that a cousinnamed “Brandy” had been watching the kids, though no such relative exists, the prosecutor added.
Darnell and Marquis escaped the blaze and have been in DCFS custody since, but the younger children were trapped in a first-floor bedroom and died from smoke inhalation.
As several tearful members of the Meakens’ family looked on from the courtroom gallery, Judge Israel Desierto banned both sisters from having any contact with the surviving kids — or any other children — in the unlikely event they make bail.
That was against the arguments of the women’s’ attorney, public defender Marijane Placek, who described them as “two women who live in poverty who tried literally to do the best they could.”
The women had gone out “for one instance of fun” and will know for the rest of their lives that they “made an awful mistake,” she added.
But Placek placed some of the blame for the tragedy on the family’s landlord, whom she urged the state to investigate, going so far as to draw a parallel between the Meakens family and the Christmas story.
The family was being evicted by landlord Daniel Spaulding, she claimed, adding that Spaulding had turned the heating off, forcing the sisters to use the hot plate because they had “no room at the inn.”
Reached later Monday, Spaulding denied any move to evict the Meakens. He said the heating was cut off by People’s Gas because Tatiana Meakens hadn’t paid her bill.
When they asked him for help last week, he called People’s Gas but couldn’t intervene because his name was not on the bill, he said.
Spaulding said he spoke to Tatiana Meakens on Thursday — less than 36 hours before the tragedy — and “advised her to find alternative accommodation until the gas issue was resolved, because I knew it was about to get cold.”
Spaulding said he also “strongly advised her not to use any space heaters or other electric heaters because they are very dangerous and consume a huge amount of electricity.”