MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A young girl has died a day after she suffered severe burns in a parking lot fire Tuesday morning outside a Walmart in Fridley. A 70-year-old man has been charged with second-degree manslaughter and two counts of negligently causing a fire in connection to the blaze.
Police say flames somehow sparked from a white van around 7:15 a.m. outside the store on University Avenue. The fire quickly spread to the vehicles parked on either side, including a minivan with two young sisters inside. Their mother was shopping inside the store when the blaze started. Investigators say they believe the fire was caused by a cookstove recovered from Roberto Lino Hipolito’s van.
The two girls, ages 6 and 9, suffered burns all over their bodies and smoke inhalation. On Tuesday night, they were both listed in critical condition at Hennepin Healthcare. It was learned Wednesday that the younger girl, Ty’rah, died from her injuries. Ty’rah’s sister, Taraji, is still fighting for her life.
Only on WCCO, Ty’rah’s mother spoke about how she’s staying strong through the grief of losing one daughter and watch another fight for her life.
“My daughter, my baby Ty’rah, she was such a bright kid, very bright, she loved people, she had a huge personality,” Essie McKenzie said.
McKenzie said her final moments with her daughter alive allowed her time to find peace and strength.
“I kissed her like she wanted to be kissed and I talked to her. I pretty much apologized. In my heart I knew she forgave me for anything I have done,” McKenzie said.
McKenzie was inside the Fridley Walmart shopping when her van caught fire. Her daughters, Ty’rah and Taraji, were sleeping in the van. She said she let them keep sleeping when she ran into the store to grab something quickly.
“My daughter Taraji still doesn’t know her sister transitioned for one. That’s really getting to me, and she’s really fighting,” McKenzie said.
McKenzie and her family do not have any connections to Hipolito.
“I really don’t have any hate in my heart for him,” said McKenzie, who said she finds her strength in her baby Ty’rah. “I broke down all day until she transitioned. When she transitioned, she gave me all over her strength, that’s what I believe.”
McKenzie is thankful for the doctors at Hennepin County Medical Center for treating both her daughters and continuing to try to save Taraji.
“The doctors (at HCMC) were just so pure, they had a huge heart here. They felt my cries and cried with me every step of the way,” McKenzie said.
Hipolito, the owner of the van that initially caught fire, told police he and his wife had parked in the lot and slept overnight in their van. Surveillance video shows Hipolito placing the stove on the pavement by the rear of the van and cooking something. According to the criminal complaint, Hipolito did not allow significant time for the stove to cool before he put it back in the van and then moved to a parking spot closer to the store entrance.
Investigators say Hipolito then entered the store, his wife was told by passersby that the van was on fire. Within three to four minutes, the two vehicles on each side of the van caught fire, including the one with the children inside. His wife, who was in the vehicle at the time of the fire, managed to get out without any major injuries.
Kathleen Kapps works with the mother of the two girls. She says the children were in her mother’s Universal Transit work vehicle when the fire broke out. The company transports students to school districts throughout the metro.