MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The man who accidentally started a fire in his van that killed a girl and badly injured her sister learned his fate in court today — 120 days in jail, probation, and restitution.
Roberto Hipolito pleaded guilty in July to negligence after a cook stove in his van caught fire and spread to another vehicle. Six-year-old Tyra White was inside and died. Her 9-year-old sister, Taraji,was badly burned.
“Tyrah White was one of the smiliest, happiest kids you will ever want to meet,” mother Essie McKenzie said.
During a victim impact statement, McKenzie said her family is still mourning a loss and coping with change.
“Both of my girls were living a great life until that man decided to ruin it,” said McKenzie.
On August 6 of the last year, Fridley McKenzie went into a Wal-Mart while her daughter’s slept in her vehicle. While inside, a fire that began in Roberto Hipolito’s van quickly spread. Tyrah died while her older sister Taraji was severely burned.
“She asked me one morning if I thought she looked like a monster. Her whole left hand is burn-marked and her forehead,” said McKenzie. “Taraji would like the courts to know that she is Tyrah’s older sister and will love her forever.”
McKenzie asked for a jail sentence for Hipolito. Attorneys on both sides and even the judge called the case tragic and extremely difficult.
“This is a tragic event. Myself, Mr. Hipolito and everyone at the public defender’s office is incredibly sad for you,” said Jennifer Peterson, Hipolito’s attorney.
Peterson said her client he was living in the van at the time of the fire and caring for his wife, who is dealing with ALS. Hipolito himself took time to apologize.
“I wish I could so something to fix it but I can do nothing. I am really very sorry and sad and ask for forgiveness. Especially from the mother,” said Hipolito.
The judge sentenced Hipolito to 120 days in jail, probation, and restitution. He also has to write a letter of apology to the victims’ family.