Chief: Lack of smoke detectors at day care where kids died

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There weren’t enough working smoke detectors at a Pennsylvania home day care center where a fire killed five children, the fire chief said Tuesday.

There was one detector in the attic of the Harris Family Daycare in the lakeside city of Erie, Fire Chief Guy Santone told a news conference Tuesday. It was not clear if there were any others in the home.

State officials who inspect home day care centers do not check for smoke detectors, Santone said. But city and state authorities are working on legislation that would make home day care centers register with the city, so it can deploy inspectors.

Fire officials suspect the blaze that broke out Sunday morning was accidental, according to Santone. They are investigating whether it was an electrical fire. Extension cords and other wiring have been sent to experts for examination.

An adult and two adolescent boys were able to escape the fire. Five children died.

The children have been identified as siblings La’Myhia Jones, 8; Luther Jones, 6; Ava Jones, 4; and Jayden Augustiniak, 9 months, according to the Erie coroner’s office. The fifth child who died in the fire has been identified as 2-year-old Dalvin Pacley. The tentative cause of death of all five children is carbon monoxide toxicity and smoke inhalation. Toxicology test results will take a few weeks to process, said coroner Lyell P. Cook.

Three of the young people killed were the children of a volunteer firefighter, Luther Jones, according to Lawrence Park Township Volunteer Fire Chief Joe Crotty.

Their mother, Shevona Overton, who is also the mother of a fourth child killed, has told WICU that she had “lost a piece of me that can never be replaced.”

Santone said there are about 40 home day care centers in Erie that are registered with the state and subject to yearly inspections. Santone said the home visits mostly include child-proofing, but those inspections don’t check for fire safety.

He is talking with state legislators and other officials to draft legislation that would require these types of facilities to also register with the city as well as the state and for smoke detectors be inspected.

A message seeking comment was left with the Department of Human Services, a state department that administers service and provides care and support to Pennsylvania individuals and families. It licenses and regulates child care centers throughout the state.

“We’re going to close that gap,” Santone said. “This is unacceptable. This just can’t go on any more like this.”