State probes alleged child neglect after 2 kids die in fire
BY MARK KONKOL Writer at Largefirstname.lastname@example.org January 24, 2012 4:56AM
The apartment where a 3-year-old girl and a 2-year-old boy died following a fire at 319 E. 130th Street. January 24, 2012. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times
Updated: February 26, 2012 8:08AM
A brother and sister died Tuesday in a raging apartment fire on the Far South Side that their surviving brother said started when he and his sister fixed themselves a late night snack while their pregnant mother slept.
It was past 3 a.m., but they wanted to warm up pizza — a leftover deep dish covered in ground beef, jalapeno and green peppers, 6 year-old Curnet Myles later told investigators.
Their mother, Alicia Myles, eight months pregnant, was fast asleep.
Myles’ daughter Destiny turned on the “eye” — that’s what the 3 year old called the stove burner, according to the story Curnet told investigators. The flame set fire to a pizza box on the range. Then, Destiny tried to put it out with a house slipper. When that didn’t work, Destiny and Curnet put the burning pizza box in a nearby cabinet, the boy said.
The fire spread quickly at the three-story apartment in the 300 block of East 130th Street, filling the house with a thick, black cloud that set off the smoke detector.
Myles woke up to the sound of blaring alarm and choking.
“I woke up and threw up three globs of blood,” Myles told the Chicago Sun-Times Tuesday afternoon, as she waited to be released from Roseland Community Hospital. “There was a fire in the kitchen. I tried to grab the children. I tried to grab my daughter, but she was mad at me. There’s no light fixture in my room and I couldn’t find them. I passed out three times.”
Myles regained consciousness and ran outside wearing only a short T-shirt.Curnet, who family members call “Poo-Poo,” followed wearing only thin pajamas and clutching his “Blues Clues” blanket.
Destiny and the baby, Jeremiah, 18 months, who had just started to walk, were still inside.
‘Sound of a baby choking’
From her bedroom window, Eucita Broughton saw smoke pouring from the adjacent building and Myles, her 25-year old neice, out in the bitter cold. Her alarm clock read 3:27 a.m.
Broughton’s son, Leotis Broughton, 22, rushed outside. Myles was franticly screaming, “‘My kids are in there,’” Leotis Broughton said.
Curnet called out for his sister and started to run toward the burning building. Leotis Broughton stopped the boy and shooed him away. Cunet stood barefoot and weeping in the frozen grass when another cousin carried him safely inside.
Myles collapsed several times in the cold. Neighbor Wolanda Walker dressed Myles in warm clothes.Other neighbors carried the shaken mother, who had blood dripping down her chin, to an ambulance.
Leotis Broughton joined Chicago police Sgt. Michael Saladino and a “repo man” from Manteno, David Johns Jr., in a brave attempt to search for the kids.
Johns, who saw smoke while repossessing a car nearby,got there first.
He kicked in the door and ignored danger. He took a gasp of air and crawled inside. He heard a noise — something less than a cry for help.
“It was the sound of a baby choking. Like the last ... gasp and whimper,” Johns said. “It was surreal, all that smoke and all I could hear was that sound. I was focused on getting to that sound. Pushing forward, forward, forward. But I couldn’t go any farther.”
Saladino, who was on patrol at a neighboring public housing complex, arrived as Johns ran out of the apartment. Together they went back inside. Johns clung to Saladino’s belt as they crept down the hallway. It was impossible to see. Flames shot over their heads.
“We yelled so the kids might hear us,” said Saladino, the father of 2-month old twins. “I didn’t hear whimpering.”
They had to turn back. The fire got too powerful. The smoke too thick.
Leotis Broughton felt helpless.“There was nothing I could do,” he said. “I was sad and mad. Mad I couldn’t save them.”
Firefighters arrived and snuffed the fire. They found the lifeless bodies of Destiny, on the floor near the bed, and of Jeremiah, still in his crib. Both kids were later pronounced dead at Roseland Hospital, the Cook County Medical Examiner said.
Both Saladino and Johns were treated for smoke inhalation and later released. Broughton wasn’t hurt.
Myles was hospitalized in serious condition and treated for smoke inhalation. Her condition had improved by early afternoon and she was able to call family members and even talk to her only surviving son.
Curnet was with family members Tuesday. When investigators told Curnet his brother and sister died in the fire, the first-grader at Dubois Elementary School asked, “‘When are they were going to come back home? Are they going to fix them so they can come back to life?’” family members said.
Later Tuesday, Myles signed herself out of Roseland Hospital with plans to stay “somewhere on the North Side.”
First, Myles wanted to see Curnet. But the devastated mother was not allowed to take her only surviving son with her.
The Illinois Department of Child and Family Services launched an investigation of “allegations of neglect against the mother of this family relating to the tragedy,” DCFS spokesman Kendall Marlowe said.
Family members said they were contacted Tuesday afternoon by a DCFS investigator and told not to let Myles take custody of the boy. This isn’t the first time the state child welfare agency has been involved with Myles and her children. DCFS found substantiated evidence of negelect against Myles in 2006 and 2008, and is investigating a child abuse report received on Nov. 28, Marlowe said.
DCFS also found substantiated evidence of abuse against two of Myles boyfriends in 2009 and 2011.
Sources said Myles has previously been addicted to huffing mothballs to get high. Fire investigators said Myles admitted to huffing mothballs in the past. She told investigators she wasn’t high during the fire, a source said.
‘Hold ’em tight’
Despite the six-year-old boy’s story about how his sister started the fire, investigators haven’t determined the cause yet. Investigators said Myles told them she removed the stove knobs so the kids wouldn’t play with the burners. And all stove controls were in the off position after the fire, a source said. Investigators are exploring the possibility that Curnet started the fire while playing with matches.
Regardless of how the fire started, Saladino, 34, hasn’t been able to sleep.
And Johns just can’t shake that haunting sound of the babies’ last breaths.
“We tried our hardest to get to her babies,” Johns said. “My heart and my thoughts go out to her.”
On Tuesday night, Johns was finally ready to rest with his own family.
“I’ve got these four babies at home,” he said. “It’s going to be a full bed tonight. They’re all going to be there and I’m gonna hold ’em tight.”
Contributing: Stefano Esposito, Frank Main